Skyfall (Catherine Asaro)

Skyfall coverThe Plot
The Skolian Empire stands on the brink of war, with only an important vote in the ruling Assembly to decide which way the decision will turn. Roca Skolia, the Foreign Affairs Minister and daughter of the current rulers of the Empire, is desperate to get back and cast her votes against the war. But she knows her son Kurj, head of one of the military branches, is just as determined to keep her from arriving in time so he can cast her votes for her. She attempts to avoid his agents by taking a roundabout method back and accidentally finds herself stranded upon the world called Skyfall. What happens next may end up having an even more profound effect upon the Empire than the war ever could.

My Thoughts
I was first introduced to Catherine Asaro’s Saga of the Skolian Empire sort of by accident. I was with friends in Boston, and we stopped by Pandemonium, a science fiction and fantasy bookstore. I was not feeling very flush with cash at the time, so I lingered near the door while they shopped, trying to avoid temptation. At a table near the entrance were some books and also their author, who I ended up talking to, because I felt awkward just standing there and ignoring someone. It was Catherine Asaro, and she gave me a pen. And then I felt guilty for taking the pen, so I also bought one of her books, The Last Hawk, which she told me was probably the easiest to read as a standalone. I took it home and read it and enjoyed it, and even went so far as to figure out which book I ought to read next, so I read that one and liked it too. And that’s kind of where things stood, because I knew even though the two I had read were enjoyable, I still felt like there was a multitude of backstory I had missed and which I needed to properly enjoy the later books in the series. I am a freak for timelines.

So when we decided to read one of Asaro’s books for Tripletake, I seized upon the chance to finally have an excuse to (1) figure out the internal chronology of the series and (2) buy all the rest of the books. Skyfall comes chronologically first (for now, at least) in the series, though it was not published first.

In Skyfall, we’re introduced to Roca Skolia, the second daughter of the current rulers of the Skolian Empire and the Empire’s Foreign Affairs Councillor. As the story opens, she’s realizing she was tricked by her son Kurj into leaving the seat of government just before an important vote will be called — a vote which will determine whether or not the Empire enters into a war with their rival empire, the Eubian Concord. With Roca out of touch, Kurj will be able to cast her votes as proxy and thus swing the result in the direction he desires. In order to thwart his plans, Roca devises an extremely roundabout method of returning to the Assembly. She lands on the world of Skyfall a few days before her next connection and promptly finds herself swept off by a group of the planet’s inhabitants. Though her kidnappers don’t mean her harm, an unexpected blizzard keeps her from getting back to the spaceport in time to make her flight, and she is stranded. Then, to make matters worse, she finds herself in the middle of a siege when the stronghold where she is staying is attacked by a group seeking to overthrow Eldrinson Valdoria, the current man in charge.

That Roca and Eldrinson find themselves mutually attracted is probably not a surprise. But what was a nice surprise was the effort made to make the residents of Skyfall (aka Lyshriol) actually different, even though they were of human stock. Instead of five-fingered and toed appendages, they have four fingers which bend in the middle to oppose one another. They think and count in base 8, and their vocal abilities have been enhanced so that they can make more sounds than a normal human. But somehow they can’t grasp the idea of a written record. Though they’re human, they’re still very alien — it’s hard to imagine them or get in their heads. And that was interesting to me, much more than your typical degenerate colony. It also seemed fairly self-consistent to me, more logical than say, the ancient colony/experiment which we visit in The Left Hand of Darkness.

Now, meanwhile, Roca’s son Kurj, though pleased with the voting results he’s achieved with his machinations, is increasingly agitated over his mother’s disappearance and consumed with the guilt of knowing it would not have happened but for his schemes. He devotes fantastic amounts of time and resources into trying to figure out where she’s gone, hoping to rescue her and also to punish anyone who might have been involved in keeping her away from him.

Along the way of this, we get a good amount of information about the history of the Skolian Empire, the leaders, the current political situation, the distribution of humans in this particular future, and various technologies which are unique to Asaro’s universe. As an introduction to the series, I came away from Skyfall feeling far less confused by the cast of characters and the setting than I recall feeling after the other books I read. There was plenty of information provided, but the number of main characters was not excessive and I was able to keep track of them and their relationships to one another without any trouble.

I’m looking forward to going through the series now in chronological order, and I expect that when I do hit the two books which I’ve already read, they’ll make a lot more sense and have more meaning once I can place them within a bigger context.

In Short
Though I had read a couple of books from the Skolian Empire series several years ago and found then enjoyable, I had been a bit confused by all of the names and places flying around because they took place quite far along in the series’ internal chronology. Skyfall is currently chronologically first and thus serves as a very good introduction to the characters and the setting, laying the groundwork for the rest of the books. Though it wasn’t published first, Asaro did a very good job of not expecting people to have read any of the other books before this one. I’m looking forward to continuing with the series from here.c