I’ll start this with a word of warning, which might seem ominous but isn’t, I swear. Here goes: the blurb on the back is way oversimplified. It leads you to expect a fairly straight-forward plot centered on two enemies overcoming their differences to achieve a common goal, and maybe falling in love along the way. There’s a lot more going on than that.
So let’s take a step back: where are we? What’s going on? Who’s doing what?
Taking those in order, we are on a planet called Aurora Saura, which is populated by four different species. The native Aurora Saurans are humanoid with a few phenotypic differences such as some having purple eyes; the recent invaders, the Rheman, seem to be psionic or at least non-physical beings who are capable of inhabiting an Aurora Sauran’s body and ‘quelling’ their minds for a time; the sand-dwelling octopus-like Tarrohar are capable of controlling an Aurora Sauran’s body as well, and rule their society by inflicting the Mind Pain (think cruciatus curse but psychic) after usurping the throne of the hereditary leader; last and least, the gremlin-like Ravvid do not play a large role in the books, and that is interesting all on its own.
As for what’s going on, well, it’s complicated. The Rheman arrived on Aurora Saura about twenty years before the start of the book, and in that time have become factionalized. Some abide by the Body Trust, where Aurora Saurans can get paid for their time while a Rheman uses their body for a day. Others, led by the mysterious Helacth, choose to kidnap and permanently quell people, using ghoragalls to bring them to the Ice Realm where Helacth has his ship. The Tarrohar are upset about all this kidnapping because it reduces their tax base, and their rule over the Aurora Saurans grows tyrannical.
And finally, who’s doing what? Kyjta is our protagonist, though I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say our ‘hero’. Here’s a young female main character who couldn’t care less about being ‘likeable’, which I personally find very refreshing. But she really is quite a piece of work sometimes: she schemes to get her stepfather taken by the ghoragalls, and then later performs some really quite coldblooded violence against a Ravvid she captures. Yet her primary motivation throughout the story is to reunite her family and rescue a young girl who is taken by the ghoragalls early on in the book. So if a morally gray protagonist is your cup of tea, you are in for some very delicious tea here. Our secondary main character is a Rheman named Kranik, who abhors Helacth and his practice of subjugating the Aurora Saurans. He and Kyjta become allies against Helacth for the sake of saving Calipsie, the girl who gets taken, and everything proceeds from there.
If that sounds like a fun, interesting time, you’d be right: there’s a lot to recommend this book. But in the spirit of fairness, I think Lauder needed to kill just a couple more darlings for the story to have made its maximum impact. As it stands, there are several subplots that feel superfluous, including the one with the Ravvid Kyjta captures. It really felt like there were two or three different stories that Lauder wanted to tell, so in the end I had a hard time telling what I ought to focus on. Twists weren’t set up in enough time to feel impactful, and the time spent on storylines that don’t feed into the main plot significantly became rather frustrating.
That said, the world is interesting, the aliens are interesting, and the characters are interesting. Someone with a better tolerance for stray plot threads than me will have a really good time with this, and the two books expected to follow promise to broaden the world and raise the stakes even further.