Despite generous appendices containing family trees, dramatis personae, a time line, and other series data, newcomers will be lost in this space opera as Asaro brings the not-always-nice Skolians closer to a reconciliation with the not-completely-naughty Aristo traders. With the two pan-galactic empires still in ruins from the Radiance War, the 23rd-century intergalactic battle that also destroyed the psiberweb, a psychic Internet that provided instantaneous transmission of information—and more—throughout the galaxy, the teenaged Jaibriol, one of four children (he’d been secretly hidden on Earth) from the union of Skolian Imperator Sauscony Valdoria and Eubian (Aristo) Emperor Jaibriol Qox II is swapped for Jai’s uncle, Prince Eldrin, consort of Ruby Pharaoh Dyhianna Seli, who had been held captive by the Aristos. The young Jaibriol hides a secret: he has the kind of telepathic talents that would normally have doomed him to a life of slavery (Aristos can’t experience love, and so they torture telepaths so that they feel a kind of cosmic orgasm they call transcendence). After he’s crowned Emperor Jaibriol III, he discovers that his uncle, Corbal Xir, who, unbeknownst to Jaibriol and the rest of the Eubian empire, has undergone an operation that prevents him from transcending and, thus, allows him to love, just might know his secret. Xir also knows that Jaibriol is a Ruby Key, that he can restore the psiberweb and thus deliver total dominance of the galaxy. Xir’s plans become entangled with Highton Finance Minister Tarquine Iquar, who, having undergone a similar antitranscending operation, could end up as the young Emperor’s bride. Can these schemers, as well as far too many additional characters who have fled or are thought dead, bring peace to a wounded universe?
Tedious, confusing, pointlessly self-referential. Fans only.