In this debut novel, a covert agent who’s supposed to stay unattached becomes involved in countering evil forces threatening a planet she’s come to love.
As undercover advance agent for a peaceful trade consortium, Marta Rowan, 22, has her usual mission, this time on Adalta, surveying and collecting samples. But from the first, little goes as planned. Marta’s usually effective empathic dampers break down; equipment fails; and most troublingly, her director wants to contravene prohibitions by interfering in local laws to permit trade in technology and advanced weapons. As part of her cover, Marta joins patrollers who ride the Karda, huge, beautiful creatures half hawk, half horse. On her travels with Sidhari, the Karda who selects her, Marta meets tall, graceful, arrogant Altan Me’Gerron and sparks fly—literally—when they touch, one of many strange occurrences and references Marta can’t understand. What, for example, does it mean that Readen, the eldest son of Restal Quadrant’s Guardian, was born without “talent”? Why is Restal so troubled by blight and fear? As for Readen, he’s nurturing twisted plans to gain corrupted power from a source thought to be long buried—schemes that will target Marta and gravely endanger Adalta. Bonded to Sidhari, drawn to Altan, and changed by Adalta, Marta finds herself at the center of a dangerous struggle for the soul of the planet. In this first installment of a sci-fi series, Nilson presents a fully lived-in, well-thought-out world. Adalta’s culture is a beguiling mix of medieval-ish through Victorian era technology, minus the coal smoke and plus some intriguing elemental magic, not to mention the magnificent Karda. Themes tend to repeat themselves, with characters slow to make realizations and some episodes described at perhaps unnecessary length. Readers who enjoy immersive detail may not mind, and when things do start to move along, the author deftly holds the audience’s interest with new developments, backstory, and deepening relationships. A few clichés hamper the storytelling, like a clearly beautiful heroine who doesn’t think she is and romance through mutual irritation, but these are minor missteps.
Vivid worldbuilding makes this sci-fi tale a strong series opener.