Skyfall by Catherine Asaro

Skyfall coverFrom the back cover:
Skyfall goes back to the beginning, to the rebirth of Skolia, showing how a chance meeting on a backwater planet forges a vast interstellar empire. Eldrinson, a provincial ruler on a primitive planet, is plagued by inner demons. But when he meets Roca, a beautiful and mysterious woman from the stars, he whisks her away to his mountain retreat, inadvertently starting a great interstellar war, and birthing the next generation of rulers for the Skolian Empire.

Skyfall is technically the ninth book in Catherine Asaro’s Saga of the Skolian Empire series, but is first if one is reading in internal chronological order. It works well as an entry point, though there were a few things that could’ve used a bit more explanation—presumably this happens in the books that were actually published before this one.

Beautiful and golden (like, literally) Roca Skolia is a “Ruby Psion,” an extremely rare and valued psion descended from similarly rare parents who currently rule the Skolian Imperialate. Because of her pedigree, she is expected to marry someone of the ruling assembly’s choosing and produce more Ruby Psions, the only people capable of controlling “the Kyle web,” an instantaneous interstellar network that somehow protects Skolia. Roca’s been married twice before and her grown son, Kurj, has a lot of mental anguish about the death of his father, the abuse perpetrated by his stepfather, and the atrocities committed by another group of psions who relish the pain of others.

When Roca’s away on government business (she’s the foreign affairs councillor), Kurj calls an assembly vote to discuss going to war with the sadistic psions. She knows he’ll try to stop her from casting her dissenting vote, so goes underground to try to make it back home in time without attracting his notice. Her route takes her to a remote, unspoiled world called Skyfall by “the Allieds” (descendents of Earth) and Lyshriol by its natives. There, her plans are foiled by a treacherous snow storm, and while she waits for it to pass, she falls in love with Eldri, a passionate and epileptic bard with significant psionic gifts, and ends up pregnant just in time for Eldri’s rival to lay siege to his castle.

It wouldn’t be incorrect to label Skyfall as “a romance novel in space.” Certainly Roca’s relationship with Eldri, who believes she’s a gift from the sun gods and is otherwise baffled by the technology she sees as commonplace, is quite romantic, with the two of them drawn together pretty much instantly and conceiving easily when other Ruby Psion births have required much medical intervention to achieve. Roca’s position brings political factors into their relationship, however. It turns out that Lyshriol was once a Skolian colony, so when Kurj eventually comes looking for her and Roca’s family finds out she has actually married this “barbarian,” it is ultimately Eldri’s genes that convince them to accept him (after a barrage of tests during which Eldri’s mental abilities and illness are evaluated).

There aren’t a whole lot of sci-fi elements to the novel, though there are enough to give one a picture of how things work in the Skolian Empire and its relationships with other spacefaring people. Genetic manipulation seems quite normal, as are cybernetic implants, and I am totally envious of the language node Roca has, which enables her to process and gradually learn new languages. Kurj has turned himself into an intimidating metallic giant, but it’s still not enough to shield him from his self-conflicting inner demons. In his case, Asaro effectively uses technology to show just how damaged he is, with some pretty fascinating results.

Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to reading more in this series!


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


J’s Take on Skyfall by Catherine Asaro

Skyfall cover
Skyfall comes first in the internal chronology of Asaro’s Skolian Empire series, but was not the first book published in it. This is the first one I’ve read, though I will eventually have to read more to catch up to Quantum Rose, which won the Nebula in 2001. (Look for it in The Nebula Project in October of 2012 if we keep up our current pace.)

I didn’t know too much about the book or the series going into it. Just that it was classified as space opera, and that there were quite a lot of books. And that it was written by a woman. So parallels to Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga were inevitable. I liked that, so why shouldn’t I like this? And why haven’t I read any of this before?

I’m not quite sure what to make of Skyfall. On the one hand, I did enjoy parts of it, and might even enjoy it more on a second read. But mostly throughout the book, I had a feeling of… I don’t know where this is going. We start out with an important woman on her way to an important vote. And then the whole plot where I thought we were headed seems to get derailed as she ends up on this out-of-the-way planet and then.. gets kidnapped/wanders off into the mountains rather than wait for her ride home. Then it seems to be this bizarre romance story.

We start switching points of view between her and her son, and I start thinking about Dune. And what’s with all these books about men and their mothers?

Nearing the end of the book, it got really good. And by the time I finished reading it, I finally felt like I understood where all the earlier stuff had been headed and why it was there. Which is why I think I might enjoy it more on a reread. I think especially if I reread it after having read more of this series.

Because I do think, from my limited perspective at this point, that this book would’ve made more sense and been a more enjoyable read, had I had some background in this series before. So that maybe the proper way to read this series isn’t internal chronology, but by publication date.

But, I don’t know. I could be wrong. Barring memory disorders, you can’t read a series for the first time both ways and do a true comparison.

I did sneak a peek at the family tree at the back of this book. Enough to realize I did not want to look at it closely! There must definitely be spoilers in there for what comes ‘next’ (‘previously’). There’s a definite spoiler in there for this book, so I’ve warned my fellow TTers. I hope they heed the warning. I know the extras like this are more tempting for others than they are for me. I didn’t even look at the other supplemental information. Spoilers = Bad!

Will I read more of this series? Yes. But if I didn’t have Quantum Rose scheduled on my plate, I probably wouldn’t go back to this series so soon. I’m not dying to absorb all of them one after the other. To be fair though, I still have 2 Vorkosigan books I’m behind on. And I do love those. Maybe I’m just not much of a series marathoner.