Of all the books I read this one most probably has the highest number of subplots per page. It feels tightly packed with them like this:
For this reason it is very hard to see the overall picture and even harder to give a plot outline. Actually when I mentioned outlining the plot in the review to my buddy readers they sincerely wished my good luck and all the moral support they could provide (right, guys?). With such encouragement I could do nothing but try.
The very beginning of the book strongly reminded me of the movie Alien, its first several frames:
A crew of a spaceship was minding its own business sleeping - hibernating to use a scientific term. Suddenly something very unexpected happened and our guys and girls had to interrupt their sleeping beauty rest. In the book it was an unscheduled launch of an escape pod from a nearby passenger space vessel. This seemingly harmless incident ultimately involved several galaxies - explored and unknown.
The part of the space we are talking about was ruled and protected by Guardships. A Guardship can be best described as a Death Star on some very serious steroids.
Unlike a Death Star a Guardship did not have any weaknesses similar to one exploited by Luke Skywalker in the original movie. One of the most rich and powerful people of the known space decided he wanted one as a personal toy. Why? Simply because he wanted to be even more rich and powerful - the more of these people have, the more they want. The guy also thought he had the means. Obviously nobody in their right mind would want to surrender a practically invincible spacecraft with some awe-inspiring weaponry, so extremely complex behind-the-scenes machinations are in order.
At this point I need to make clear that right here I am walking a fine line between giving away too much and giving away the fact that I still have no clue what was going on at some places and subplots after finishing the book. This would be a very appropriate point for me to stop outlining the plot.
After reading quite a few books by Glen Cook I became firmly convinced that in the most unfortunate case the muse
will leave the guy forever (like the capricious lady left George R.R. Martin) the author can make a very comfortable living teaching Writing Backstabbing and Double-Crossing 101. I have yet to see anybody in any genre who does it better - some are equal, but none exceeds him. This time is no exception and it is fun and highly surprising to see close allies dispose of each other at a drop of a hat. After all the stakes are high: galactic-level high.
I would hesitate to call any single character even slightly nice, but a lot of them were very interesting - another Cook's trademark. I even rooted for some of them. I guarantee you will be curious about the fate of some after you finish reading.
Now come the negative parts. All of my buddy readers as well as my friend Bookwraith agree that this would work much better as a trilogy. As a standalone book it really does not have enough space to give a good picture about what is going on. Sufficient to say, I began to understand some subplots when I was at about 80% mark. The rest of them I still do not understand. In fact I was really tempted to throw my book against the wall because quite a few times I was sure Cook simply mocks me as a reader. As a space opera trilogy it would easily rival Dune; as it stands now calling it very confusing is a huge understatement.
So if you think you are very smart and always understand that goes on in a book - consider this one as a challenge; it will humble you. If you look for a very complicated space opera look no further. If you are a fan of Glen Cook read this one, but prepare to be absolutely clueless until the later chapters. If you are new to the author, it might be a good idea to start with his other books. For me the excitement of the parts I understood was enough for 4 star rating: not Cook's best, but way above average and forgettable science fiction flooding the market lately.