This is a whopper from the writer who brought you Eragon and its subsequent three books. (Admittedly, Eragon I found tiresomely derivative and so never read anything further of his.) But, damn, Paolini has grown and matured, his writing is compelling, lush, and the scope of this story, HUGE. Huge like Verner Vinge's “A Fire Upon the Deep” or the scope of Dan Simmons “Hyperion Canticles”.
Kira Navarez is a xenobiologist and she and her team are on the planet Adrasteia looking for any signs of life…ancient or current, when literally, taking one last look around before she and her crewmates leave, Kira falls through the roof of an underground chamber and finds an alien relic. A relic that immediately gloms onto Kira, coating her in shiny black flexible skin. Kira discovers it is a sentient outer suit that can protect her from just about anything.
Of course, it a terrifying situation for her to be absorbed by this shiny black suit, which can become deathly defensive based on her emotions and reactions. She is overwhelmed by the suit and of course, the powers running her survey lock her down for observation. This is the beginning of everything around Kira and the galaxy changing course. It goes full tilt boogie into a first contact that is explosive to say the very least.
A civilization run by the Wranaui come barreling out of space (everyone has FTL capabilities) and all hell breaks out as the aliens have a long connection to the suit and they are seeking its creators-the Vanished. The power suit Kira is encased in is related to the Vanished and Wranaui or Jellies as they are called (because they are aqueous amorphous beings with tentacles and claws and groupings of them are named shoals) are attracted by the power (and resurrection, I suppose) of Soft Blade which is what the suit calls itself, once Kira and it are able to contact mentally.
After a horrific clash where Kira loses among others, her fiancée Alan, an even greater horror comes forth, The Maw which sends ravening Nightmare creatures after the pacific Jellies and humans. There are also Jellies who want nothing to do with humanity. But the Maw doesn't differentiate among species and everyone out on the star routes is fair game for destruction. Chaos erupts everywhere and Kira finally fleeing the controlling Marines who want her suit for their uses, she takes the ship Valkerie and heads off to escape, leaving the mess of the horrendous space battle, and the Marines behind. And we're off.
Kira finds herself, tendays later, being picked up by the SLV Wallfish, a civilian ship capable of FTL. Once settled with them, we follow Kira's growing attachment to Soft Blade and discovering what the suit can do and she learns to communicate with Soft Blade, and through that, finds out the suit is familiar with the Wranaui…and the Vanished. Her growing abilities help her, the crew of the Wallfish and a few other sympathetic Marines understand that not all the Jellies are out to destroy the humans. And one of the things Soft Blade lets Kira know about is this mysterious Staff of Blue which may help keep the attacking Wranaui, the Maw and its ravenous nightmares from completely destroying galactic civilization as they know it.
But even after finally discovering its whereabouts, the situation actually worsens.
Paolini's writing has matured so much from the awkward derivative Eragon. This novel clearly shows the over ten-year span of work and research he put into this, while finishing up the rest of the Inheritance Cycle.
Some of the distances and the math are a little hard for me to grasp, but there is an extensive set of notes, maps, and glossary in the back of the novel. You'll need it!
We follow Kira and the tight crew of the Wallfish as they get closer and closer to a confrontation with the head of the nasty Wranaui named Cstein and after that horror, the ravening invasion of the Maw and its minions. There is a terrible truth about the Maw's existence Kira spends a great deal of time juggling and trying to come to terms with, its presence constantly eats away at her confidence. There is so much here to chew on.
The characters are really well-filled-out, all have fascinating histories and individual quirks and abilities. They surround Kira with a great support system. There are also a few iron-bound by-the-book Marines and planetary administrators to constantly harass her and the crew of the Wallfish.
This is really a novel you need some time to focus on. Depending on your ability to consume books…this will prove to be a terrific immersion into Paolini's incredibly detailed universe and provide time consuming pleasure.
Will there be more? There could be. But that's certainly up to Paolini. Seriously, you need some new SF---this is your book. ~~ Sue Martin
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