Spherical Harmonic is Catherine Asaro’s latest offering in the Skolian Saga. To put it in perspective, this book is the direct sequel to The Radiant Seas, itself the direct sequel to Primary Inversion. While it overlaps over books in the saga, it is a full story in its own right. While the two books mentioned above focus on Sauscony Valdoria, Jagernaut and Imperator of the Skolian Empire, this story deals with her aunt. Dyhianna (Dehya) Selei is the Ruby Pharaoh, the hereditary leader of the family Skolia. Although the Assembly has done the actual governing, the family is still leaders in their own right.
This book picks up directly after the Radiance Wars between the Skolian and Eubian Empires (the Aristo Traders). The war to end all wars, both empires took substantial hits. The Skolians suffered the loss of the psiberweb, designed by Dehya and her son Taquinil. Without the web, the society is at a complete standstill. The Aristos have some technology that would help them build their own psiberweb, which would put the Skolians at great risk. Dehya and Taquinil had been pushed into Hilbert space (think cyber space or virtual reality) by her husband, Prince Eldrin, who was then taken captive by the Aristos. When Dehya resurfaces, she does so on the planet Opalite with no memory of who she is or how she got there. As her memory comes back, she is faced with another problem. She literally fades out and becomes transparent for hours at a time. In other books, you see talk of Dehya fading away as if her work in the psiberweb is robbing her of her solid form. Being pushed into this world, even for a short time, has worsened the problem.
As it stands right now, her civilization is at a standstill. The psiberweb drove her world and without it, they’re lost. Dehya must work to rebuild her world. At the same time she is worrying about this, she is also grieving over lost friends and family. Her husband was been taken captive by the Aristos and is very valuable to them. Not so much as the Ruby Pharoah’s consort (although that is a benefit) but as a Rhon Psion, a race of strong empaths. The Aristos thrive on the torture and cruelty they inflict on empaths and use them for their own enjoyment. As far as Dehya knows he is still alive but in Aristo hands. Those who have read The Radiant Seas may remember reading about Eldrin. (For those who haven’t read it, I won’t give it away.) Dehya is also caught up in political machinations not only with her own people, but with Earth, whose rulers are holding some of her family hostage to stop them from builing a new psiberweb. Earth’s rulers fear that if a new web is built, the wars will worsen, but Dehya knows that in order for her civilization to survive, she needs to rebuild the web – and she will need help.
Other books in the series have shown Dehya as more of a background figure, one I’ve wanted to know more about. She often feels the pressure of her position and power and chafes at it. The assembly controls the family with an iron hand supposedly for their own good but that kind of scrupulous attention to one’s life can get tiresome. Dehya wants to find a way to rule that is beneficial to all, but can it be done? She grieves over lost family and friends and feels remorse for what she must do. She’s also very vulnerable in her way. Her mind, though – whoa! This is one smart lady. Her mind works on a completely different plane and the way she works out things in her head, by inventing models, is astounding. This book is very heavy on the physics talk. Ms. Asaro, with degrees in both Physics and Chemistry, is a rocket scientist, and there are scientific concepts shown throughout the book. The title itself is taken from a Physics theory. This may turn some readers off but I didn’t find it bogged the story; rather, it showed us how Dehya’s mind operated.
I found this new chapter in the Skolian Saga to be a great read. Asaro paints such a vivid picture of the world she has created and the layers are so complex and rich. All the questions aren’t answered, and not everything is solved here. But that leaves room for more books in the series. If you are new to this series, I would urge you to start with Primary Inversion and then The Radiant Seas. If you start here, you will be entertained but you may also get lost. For those that have read the series, this is a worthy addition to the collection.