The Radiant Seas is the direct sequel to Primary Inversion, an earlier novel in Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Saga. Although Asaro’s website says all the books in the series are intended to be stand alone with the exception of the Triad duology (originally written as one book until it became too long), I would recommend reading Primary Inversion first. I don’t think I would have enjoyed this novel to the same extent if I did not have the background information on the characters and world provided in its predecessor.
Since this is a review of a book that picks up immediately at the end of the sequel, spoilers for Primary Inversion are contained in this review.
The Skolians and Eubians have been at war for a very long time. The former are empaths and the latter are their antithesis – experiments in counteracting the Skolian’s abilities led to their development as a race of anti-empaths who derive great pleasure from torturing them. After the Eubian heir Jaibriol II was captured by the Skolian Empire, he was rescued by the Skolian heir Sauscony, who had fallen in love with him after discovering he was actually a strong psion like herself. Unknown to anyone from either of the empires other than Sauscony’s father, Sauscony and Jaibriol were married and faked their deaths under the pretense that both were killed when Sauscony pursued the escaping prisoner Jaibriol. Instead, the two took refuge on an uninhabited planet and began a new life together away from the animosity between their two worlds. They face obstacles such as allergic reactions to their new home and violent sentient plants and raise a family.
On Skolia, Sauscony’s parents and siblings grieve her passing and her brother Kurj, the Imperator, selects their brother Althor as his new heir. Althor has reason to be suspicious that his sister is actually alive and manages to get the truth about her “death” from his father. He is sworn to secrecy, but is later captured by the Eubians who torture him mercilessly. Even though his mind is in the process of automatically erasing his memories, the empress discovers that Jaibriol is still alive. She sends forces to capture Jaibriol and bring him back to the Empire, and soon afterward, Sauscony returns to Skolia determined to rescue her husband without revealing to anyone that they are married and have four children.
The Radiant Seas was more difficult for me to get interested in than Primary Inversion, but it became very difficult to put down later. Sauscony was no longer the point of view character nor was she the main character since the story focused on her, various members of her family, and the Eubian emperor and his wife. She was not as compelling a character in the beginning, either, since a lot of the beginning of her story involved having and raising children, which I didn’t find that interesting. However, I did really enjoy getting to see the softer side of the hard-hearted Imperator Kurj as well as glimpses into life in Eube. Although the anti-empaths were still not as sympathetic as the Skolians, they were more humanized than they were in the previous novel.
This novel combines the politics and adventure of space opera with hard science fiction. At times, there was quite a bit of technical discussion as theoretical scientific concepts were explored. This also dragged on a bit too much for my taste at times (although it probably didn’t help that I was reading it when I should have been going to sleep).
One other aspect of this book that bothered me was Sauscony’s AI developing a personality and attitude. It was not so much the way this was handled as it was that it seemed out of place to me since this AI was the very matter-of-fact type in Primary Inversion.
My favorite part of this book was definitely the world that Asaro has created in this series. The two sides are more black and white than I normally like, but I still can’t help but love the intergalactic opposition between the Eubians and Skolians. The idea of telepaths and empaths is always appealing to me, and I am fascinated by the idea of a kind of far-future Internet powered by minds.
Fans of Primary Inversion likely will not be disappointed with its sequel. It does take a little more time to become immersed in the story, but the wider scope of character viewpoints gives a better perspective of the world Asaro has created.
Reviews of other books in this series: