September 2003
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Skyfall by Catherine Asaro
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765306387 PubDate: 10/01/03
Review by Todd V. Ehrenfels [todd.ehrenfels@verizon.net]

304 pgs. List price $ 24.95
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The wonderful thing about prequels is that you already know the results and highlights of the events that are to unfold within the story. A good prequel does not seek to change the timeline or rationalize the behavior and actions of prior works, but instead extends a line back through time to give the reader a glimpse into lives and events that may have been discussed and taken for granted by the characters who shared them. The consistency of Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Universe setting allows for the potential for many great and wondrous prequels and sequels, and the thrill of watching consistent and lucid character development is truly a joy in a genre increasingly filled with hackneyed and clichéd character stereotypes. Well written prequels are rare gems, and it is a worthy author who will take the time to generate a good prequel rather than a trashy potboiler thrusting tried and true characters into situations that had never even been hinted at before.

Skyfall, Asaro’s latest Skolian novel, takes us back to the days before Kurj Skolia became Imperator of the Skolian Empire. At this stage of the timeline, the first two Ruby Psions, the Imperator Jarac and the Ruby Pharoah Lahaylia, are still running the business of the Empire while Kurj is a high ranking Jagernaut bent on war with Eube, Dehayia is a high level technocrat next in line for the position of Pharoah, and Roca is a professional ballerina who has only recently entered politics as the Minister for Foreign Affairs. While we have met most of the major players in previous novels, the fleshing out of Jarac and Lahaylia lend a fresh breath and new perspective to the proceedings.

As always, Asaro mixes brilliantly designed and conceived characters with a great romantic plot to create an enticing and enjoyable story. From the first chapter Roca’s sense of urgent desperation and need to prevent the war she knows her son Kurj is working to enflame draws us into a web of intriguing Imperial politics. It is almost impossible for the reader not to quicken their pace at this masterfully artistic storytelling. In deliberate contrast the scenes on Lyshriol, or Skyfall as the Allied Worlds have called the newly re-discovered Ruby Dynasty colony, are far more staid and paced in a manner that allows the reader to feel a sense of lost time much as the stranded Roca does. As one reads on it is almost impossible not to feel the emotions of the scene and empathize with the main characters. In any good story the characters’ motivations are always made crystal clear, and in many ways both blatant and subtle, Asaro cues us in to what the characters desires, fears, and ambitions truly are.

One unfortunate side effect of this highly character involved story is a dilution of the hard science aspects that have made Asaro so popular. In general, one would usually see long, loving descriptions of particle/anti-particle interaction, technical specifications of Jumbler weapons, programming and construction of the Kyle Psiberweb, detailed explanation of Klein Bottles, and complicated dissertations on faster than light space/time interactions in the average Asaro novel. These heavily technical and hard-edged scientific abstractions made Catherine Asaro’s earlier works like Primary Inversion, The Last Hawk, and Radiant Seas masterful works of SF, but are noticeable in their absence here. While this lack does not detract from the story, it does cause the novel to slip further from Hard SF and closer to the standard fare of the Romance genre. Although this may seem to be a bit of a negative selling point to the lovers of Hard SF, it is a refreshing change.

All things considered, while Skyfall is a great work of storytelling it falls notably short of the high mark set by Asaro’s earlier works. While it will certainly appeal top those who, like myself, have followed the Skolian novels with interest and enthusiasm, newcomers to the series who prefer more science in their SF may be put off by the romance elements of the story. Additionally, those unfamiliar with the mechanics of the Skolian Universe may not understand many of the elements of the story taken for granted by the author and those who have been following the series. In the end, while I truly enjoyed the style and story of Skyfall, I must in truth recommend that if this is to be your first exposure to Catherine Asaro, you would be better served to read Primary Inversion before making an attempt on Skyfall.

© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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