Daniel has wanted to be a writer ever since he was in elementary school.He has published stories and articles in such magazines as Slipstream, Black Petals, Spindrift, Zygote in my Coffee, and Leading Edge Science Fiction. He has written four books: The Sage and the Scarecrow (a novel), the Lexical Funk (a short story collection), Reejecttion (short story/ essay collection), and The Ghosts of Nagasaki (a novel).
Full Disclosure: I am friend and coworker of Gavin’s. The review below is my unbiased review of the book (as far as is possible given that I am a friend and coworker of the author).
More than any other element, I was impressed by this novel’s ability to build a world. This world is a tapestry of technological marvels, intricate political and family relationship, religious elements, and intrigue. As the book moves forward, these elements grow into an ever more elaborate web. At no point in the book did I feel the author wasn’t a master of his world, and I anticipate that this world will only grow as the author writes more volumes.
At several moments in the book, I was taken back to my high school days when I would read the works of Frank Herbert or Timothy Zahn. I’ve never read any “Games of Thrones” but my sense is that this book would have a lot in common with those books as well. Another book I was reminded of while reading McAllister’s work was Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire.” Much like that book, this book is interested in the aspects of an honor-bound society. Though technological advances, alien enemies, and other aspects make this squarely SF, the book is written in a way that draws heavily from classical honor-based societies (you will find much in common between the Pirassi and the Lacedaemonians / Spartans). I’m sure there is also plenty in this book to appeal to those who love to read Homeric poems in translation.
You see Pirassi society not from one vantage point, but rather from the vantage point of many different characters. Not all of the characters and elements work to the same degree. The authors intervenes into the lives of minor characters for short periods. My best guess is that the author is building up a world that can sustain multiple volumes and that can turn minor characters in earlier books into major characters in later books. If indeed the author is “playing the long game” (I could just ask him, but instead choose to read and make up my own mind), then he has created rich material for future books and spinoffs. If, however, the author will shift the focus of his next books or opt for a shorter series, then perhaps fewer characters would have worked better.
One quibble I had with the book was the prose. In parts of the book, language is thoroughly “Pirassized” -- metaphors and descriptions refer to the larger Pirassi world, even if that world is foreign to the reader. In other parts of the book, these elements are not used and instead the reader is left with typical military SF action scenes and writings. Since the Pirassi world seems fully formed in the author’s head, I was wondering why the prose seemed grounded in the tropes of standard military SF.
Creating an entire world and its prose style is not an easy thing to do. If I can be crass and draw an example from TV, my favorite show “Farscape” took about a season and a half to develop the languages and references of its own world. Many early viewers might have thought that vasts parts of it were “dren,” but they would have “frilled” themselves by giving up on it too soon. Fully Pirassizing the prose is risky -- it might alienate some readers, especially new readers. However, if the author is going to use romantic language, I don’t think he can go half-way with the language. Create a romanticized Pirassi style!
In short, the writer has established a rich world to play with over many volumes. For over four hundred pages I was engaged and enjoyed myself. What will happen to the fragile Pirassi culture and society? Only future volumes will tell.