The time and place
The time is the far future. On Planet Alsea the inhabitants are humanoids with empathic powers. Most of the events take place in Blacksun, the capital, and the landholdings of the Opah family, called Hol-Opah.
The suspension of disbelief
Empathic humanoids with forehead and pelvic ridges developed on another planet. In the previous book, we learned that the ancient human settlers here might have tinkered a bit with fish people to produce the Alseans. An alien spaceship crashed on Alsea not long ago, and with it Alsea had to fight off some technologically advanced aliens. Now that Alsea has contacted greater galactic civilization, its populace must figure out how to handle all the new technology they have access to.
The quick summary
After repelling an alien invasion, Alsea’s leader Andira Tal now has the really hard work to deal with. Plenty of veterans and other civilians question her methods used to defend Alsea. She has squabbling castes who have differing views on what to do with the matter printers Alsea now has access to. How and when should they be introduced into the economy? The producers are afraid it will destroy their livelihoods. One such producer issues a challenge to Tal to live as a field hand for a month. Tal agrees, and finds new respect for the producers, and a chance at a life-changing love. However, a villain conspires to control Tal, and is just waiting for her to fall into his trap.
Delancey does an amazing job of describing landscapes and pageantry. The reader experiences so many aspects of society: farming, politics, the prison system, how castes work, and ceremonial swordfighting. Everything feels like it’s been carefully thought out: Alsea is a complete and detailed world, and its struggles felt convincing to me.
The romance builds slowly, and the relationship between Tal and her belle is a slow build from grudging respect to love as they interact with each other more and see beyond their preconceptions of who the other is. Tal’s lady is more than a match for the leader of Alsea- according to Tal herself! Speaking of Tal’s lady, so many characters have awesome and original names. They’re pleasant sounds in my mind.
Early on, Delancey handles questions of prisoners of war, euthanasia, and the unexpected victims of warfare. There’s a lot to consider here, given the events of The Caphenon, and all the consequences of war and alien contact are given due consideration.
I’m somewhat allergic to the ‘soul mates’ trope. Although Delancey handles the relationship well, with the women figuring out they would have bonded without divine intervention, it’s something that tweaks me in any circumstance.
This book is long and ends on a cliffhanger. The pace is slowed down by occasional vignettes about Tal’s adversary. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much to latch on about the villain. He’s vague about his machinations and his motivations seem pretty simple. I would have liked some more details (like his pet rabbit or something) about him to make him more intriguing to me.
Read if you
- Are starved for f/f romances in science fiction
- Want to read about mature and thoughtful adults trying to do right by those who care for them
- Love rich details about worlds and societies
Skip if you
- Need a quick or R-rated read
- Hate talk about planetary politics
Read The Caphenon before reading this. It will make the issues surrounding the Voloth and Tal’s despondence at the beginning of the book much clearer. I’ll definitely read Without a Front II: The Warrior’s Challenge.