In James’ sci-fi debut, an Atlanta woman learns that she’s an alien and may be the one who prophecy says will save her own kind, enslaved by a race that overtook their planet.
Twenty-five-year-old Jane Doe knows that she’s different, inducing inexplicable terror in anyone near her. But even if she’s an orphan, she certainly couldn’t anticipate the Nhélanei, aliens from the planet Spyridon, an entire galaxy away. Led by Mikhél, the aliens tell Jane that she’s one of them; her real name is Seirsha. The Nhélanei’s arrival actually saves Jane, whose alien body needs nutrients that Earth can’t provide. But there’s more: she’s aboard the vessel Dhóchas for the return trip to Spyridon because she’s royalty, or the Baanrí. After a race called the Meijhé crushed the Nhélanei government and turned the population into slaves, Jane’s mother sneaked her infant daughter off to Earth. While most Nhélanei have gifts, Jane possesses a healing ability and a possible second skill, foresight, just like the prophesied “strong one” who’ll stop evil Meijhé leader Lhókesh. Mikhél and several others try to keep Jane’s identity hidden, but even on the ship there are Watchers, Nhélanei who spy for the enemy. Soon the Watchers will strike, planning to assassinate someone before Dhóchas can reach its destination. The novel, the first in a proposed series, is a riveting origins story. The bulk of the action is aboard the vessel, where Jane learns about her alien brethren as well as quite a few secrets Mikhél has stockpiled. There’s a plethora of explanations, but James steers clear of tedium by injecting mystery. Foreign terminology, for example, like jagat (development of the senses), typically appears well before the aliens define it. Jane and Mikhél’s relationship, too, is continually engaging. While the story clarifies their unmistakable connection later in the book, it’s clear from the beginning that romance is brewing. And before the couple’s had a proper introduction, Mikhél drops an impassioned winner, telling a dazed Jane, “Sleep…I’ll be here when you wake.” The stirring final act comprises explosions and threats on various lives, aptly setting up a sequel.
Slowly pulls readers into a wondrous universe brimming with fascinating characters.