Primary Inversion, a novel in the Skolian Saga, is the debut novel of Nebula Award winner Catherine Asaro. Although it is not chronologically the first novel in the series, it is supposed to be a good place to start. The series mostly focuses on the story of different members of one family and a few of the books are closely linked (for instance, The Radiant Seas continues the story begun in Primary Inversion and is about the same characters). This partially space opera, partially hard science fiction novel had me hooked from the early pages and proved to be difficult to put down.
The universe is comprised of two main empires that are at war with each other – the Skolians and the Traders (there is also a third empire that is neutral and is not mentioned very much in this book). The Traders, due to a flaw in their engineering, not only can withstand pain but derive great pleasure from it and therefore particularly enjoy torturing the empathic Skolians.
Primary Inversion is told from the first person point of view of Sauscony, otherwise known as Soz, a Jagernaut Primary (a soldier fairly high in the hierarchy with advanced technology making her strong and quick). While on a neutral planet with her colleages, Soz is hit on by a man who is obviously a Trader and most likely of the ruling family. She notices he does not seem like the other Traders, but cannot immediately figure out why.
This novel has almost everything one could hope for in a space opera – interesting technology and societies, political intrigue, and a pretty cool space battle. A lot of the focus in the middle of the story is on Soz, as she deals with the after-effects of her experience as a spy on a Trader planet and some events in the present. Some may find this to be a little too emo, and there is also some romance, although not too much. This book is certainly not a straight romance novel, as I have heard some of the other books in the series are. The beginning and the end (especially the end) are rather fast-paced and make up for what some may consider to be a slow middle.
Soz is an interesting and well-developed character, both because of her life as a Jagernaut and a member of the royal family and her internal conflict. She is an empath, one who can feel others emotions as though they are her own, yet she is in many ways an emotional cripple. Soz has a hard time expressing her thoughts and feelings and being truly close to people. Her character is likable – believable yet flawed.
This book was very easy to read quickly in spite of a lot of technological explanations (particularly in the beginning when much of the Jagernaut technology was explained to a young man in training). It was mixed in with plenty of dialogue and insight into the characters that kept it from being heavy reading.
If you don’t mind some internal struggle and romance but enjoy space opera featuring well-developed characters and societies, I would recommend giving Primary Inversion a shot. It is very easy to begin reading and very difficult to stop reading. I look forward to reading more books in this series.