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A Darkling Sea by James Cambias
Cover Artist: Thom Tenery
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765336279
Date: 28 January 2014 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

A Darkling Sea offers an interesting perspective on the interactions between three species: humans, Sholen, and Ilmatarans. The Sholen have a checkered history and, after almost destroying their world, have taken the decision to revert to a simpler lifestyle and eschew certain developments by them and others. After the Sholen learn of the death of one human at the hands of the Ilmatarans, they order the humans to close their base on Ilmatar and leave. The humans refuse and more deaths occur, sowing the seed of an interstellar war.

The difficulty of interspecies communication and the ability to fully understand and act upon that knowledge becomes key to the success of both humans and Sholen. Initially, the humans have the advantage, but one of the Sholen uses that knowledge to develop links with a bandit group to act as scouts and aid the Sholen to kill or remove the humans. The hero exercises his ingenuity to survive and to find a means to defeat the Sholen, but will it be enough?

The exciting climax pits a single human with limited technology and Ilmatarans with Neolithic tools against the Sholens with high-tech weapons. The end seems certain doom for all except the Sholens.

The story shares elements in its physical setting with other novels dealing with human settlements beyond Earth, especially Paul McAuley’s novels from his The Quiet War series and Ben Bova's Leviathans of Jupiter. The major new thing is the Ilmatarans and their culture. Cambias does a good job of world building and his aliens are interesting and diverse. The ending leaves opportunity for more adventures.

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