Third installment in Hunt’s military SF series (The Dark Path, 2003, etc.) about humanity’s encounter with the birdlike zor and other, less amenable aliens.
With no synopsis or glossary, or even a cast of characters, readers will be expected to negotiate such sentences as “You came here to speak of seL’'e’Yan and the anGa’riSsa of ha’i Ge’el, se Rh’t’e?” So. Once foes, humans and zor have now formed an uneasy alliance against a new enemy, the insectlike vuhls. Ex-commodore Jackie Laperriere must take possession of the gyaryu, the ancient sacred sword of zor warrior-heroes, and ascend the steps of the Perilous Stair. In so doing, she will become an avatar of Qu’u, able to commune with the souls resident in the sword. On Earth, however, Jackie learns that most people believe the struggle against the vuhls is merely a ploy by the military to maintain funding. Elsewhere, Owen Garrett, visited by mysterious bands of color that may well be yet another alien manifestation, has acquired the ability to resist the powerful hypnotic illusions projected by the vuhls: he just has to get very focused and very angry. The color-band aliens’ apparently human representative, Captain Thomas Stone, was killed while attempting to assassinate Admiral Marais on Earth. Now, not in the least dead, and capable of stepping directly through hyperspace, Stone tells Jackie that his sponsors are manipulating humans, zor and vuhls—leaving Jackie and the zor High Lord to wonder whether the gyaryu itself has been corrupted.
Series fans—clearly a patient, dedicated bunch—will relish Hunt’s slow-motion intrigues and detailed exploration of alien societies.