As paranoid King Harad of the planet Vacaron moves to eliminate a long-lost prince who threatens his reign, complications arise from a group of Earth explorers that the monarch holds hostage.
On Vacaron, the long-tailed beings of the same name are intelligent, spacefaring, and humanoid, but they maintain a feudal-monarchy warrior culture. The ruling Vacaron, King Harad, came to power via treachery, and now he moves to eliminate the rightful heir to the throne, long-hidden teenage Prince Avhor, dwelling as a boy named Urvak, unaware of his heritage. As Harad strikes, Urvak/Avhor falls in with a long-simmering Resistance movement whose secret members reach into the palace. But there is another complication: years earlier, Harad “welcomed” an exploration team of four earthlings who have since been confined to the king’s private “zoo” as a state secret. Now one of the astronauts, Mike Bearborn, has been freed by the Resistance and faces painful choices involving saving his remaining crew members or betraying Avhor. What little a reader gleans of the humans comes across as distinctly Starfleet-like in their ostensibly peaceful military-scientific deep-space mission (except one likes to think James T. Kirk wouldn’t countenance misplacing four vital crew members for a couple of years). But the focus is on the Vacaron civilization, scientifically advanced yet flirting with the Dark Ages on a societal level. Ditchek’s debut novel isn’t the first sci-fi work to offer a first-contact narrative distinctly from the point of view of the aliens. But the author brings off the switcheroo with solid storytelling sense and pacing. The Vacaron hold reader interest, although they are not especially groundbreaking in terms of species details, customs, or concept, and they lack the cathartic sense of fierce warrior ethics and theatrical bloodlust of Star Trek’s cult-cherished Klingons (one senses the writer not wanting to get any sword arms too dirty in the sadism department). The narrative voice is well-addressed to both YA and undemanding adult readerships, without condescension. The author promises a sequel.
A somewhat restrained but sturdy tale; deep-space Game of Thrones lite.