Catherine Asaro returns to the early days of her Skolian series for a searing space opera revealing how a war of galactic proportions first exploded between two great dynasties.

Twenty-three years after Skolian heiress Roca missed the fateful vote in the Assembly (in Skyfall), the hostility between Eube and Skolia has intensified, and when Eube sees an opportunity to strike, it does not hesitate. Sauscony (Soz), Roca's 17-year-old daughter, wants to train as a military officer, but her father Eldrinson forbids it. When Soz follows her heart to the Desham Military Academy, where her older brother is enrolled, the Euban Traders take advantage of the opportunity to drive a wedge into the Skolian ruling family, hoping to divide and conquer. Personal and political tragedy follows, but the ruthless Eubans failed to reckon with the force that is Soz.

This 10th novel in Asaro's award-winning series is actually an excellent entry point into the Saga of the Skolian Empire, providing enough backstory and history of events detailed in earlier books to involve the new reader. Younger readers will cheer on the teenage heroine, while parents will feel for Eldrinson and Roca's heartbreaking choices.

Asaro evocatively delineates the differences between the democratic Skolian Empire and the slave-based economy of the Traders, setting up inevitable clashes, but she also explores personal conflicts. Her usual attention to detail and mastery of characterization ensure that this is a worthy addition to an excellent series. (Dec. '04, 400 pp., $25.95)
Reviewed by: 
Jen Talley Exum