I expected to like this book more than I did. It had spectacular worldbuilding–based on the principle that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but internally consistent. It also featured a deliciously villainous antagonist, a horrific and original dystopian government that nonetheless made sense, and a great character in the allegedly “mad” general, Shuos Jedao. The problem is, Shuos Jedao wasn’t the main character. Kel Cheris was. And Kel Cheris’s development was not, in my opinion, handled properly.
While Cheris does grow and change over the course of the book, we don’t see her internal debates and longings as she does so. Everything is understated to a fault. Cheris is duty-bound and repressed, a character type I usually enjoy, but her point of view doesn’t get far into hidden depths.
That said, I did enjoy the book, even if a lot of it felt like set-up for the trilogy as a whole. There are great twists–pay attention to the inserted “intelligence reports”–and some set-piece scenes as Jedao manipulates Cheris into doing what he wants and as Cheris finds out more about Jedao’s past. I just wish Cheris were more compelling.