Completed 4/22/2020, Reviewed 4/22/2020
This was a confusing jumble of aliens and subplots. It’s kind of a murder mystery, kind of a noir, kind of a space opera. I had higher expectations of this book as it is written by a woman considered to be the Grande Dame of Canadian Science Fiction. On top of that Ursula LeGuin was a first reader and wrote a high praise blurb for it. But I spent most of this book trying to figure out who was who, particularly, who was really an undercover agent. I thought the writing was passable and the world building insufficient for the number of alien races presented. All in all, a disappointing read.
The plot surrounds the intrigue of cloning slave races and the smuggling of them to different worlds. The story begins with Skerow, an alien described by earthlings, “Solthree” natives, as a streamlined baby allosaurus. She is a judge who is put on a case in the last minute. After she delivers her verdict guilty, she is nearly murdered, and nearly murders her attacker. In the meantime, she comes across a creature, sort of an amphibian-Solthree hybrid named Kobai in a tank outside a shop. Kobai screams at Skerow that she’s going to take revenge on Nohl for capturing her and selling her. Moved by compassion, Skerow vows to find out who this Nohl is, bring him to justice, and free the slave.
Then the plot gets really confusing. An undercover agent named Jacaranda is in a brothel owned a prostitution/gladiator/gambling mogul named Zamos. The brothel has acquired Kobai. Jacaranda is assigned to seduce Kobai in the tank where she’s being held, for public entertainment purposes. However, they release a killer sea creature and Jacaranda is killed. There’s another undercover agent named Ned Gattes who knew, maybe was partners with, Jacaranda. He’s assigned to get to the bottom of the murder, I think. Well, he’s posing as a gladiator, for entertainment purposes. There’s another guy, Lebedev, who might also be an undercover agent, working as a dealer at one of Zamos’ casinos. I think everyone is trying to bring Zamos down and/or get to the bottom of the cloning of races for slavery. So yeah, I’m not really sure exactly what went on. Most of what I was able to figure out was that nearly everyone is involved in uncovering this slavery ring and trying to not get killed in the process.
Besides the confusing plot, I thought the world building was not sufficient to help me differentiate all the races involved. There are a lot of characters from primarily three or four different worlds. It became more confusing to me when there was travel between worlds. I was confused by who was what type of alien, where they were, and what their home planet was. In terms of the worlds, what I got out of it the most was that they had differing levels of oxygen, requiring some races to take oxygen tablets. I felt that if this was a movie or a TV series, it might work better, because there would be more visuals to help you identify the different alien races.
Needless to say, I didn’t like this book. I’m giving it two stars out of five because at least there was a lot of good intent, it was just poorly executed. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I have really no desire to read the rest of the books, or anything else by this author. Someone would have to really talk up one of her books before I tried another one.