The Moon's Shadow
One of the downsides of reading a great series like Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Saga is that you get attached to the characters. Somehow I missed reading the last book in the series, Spherical Harmonics, and therefore was unaware of a tragedy regarding two of my favorite characters. So when I opened The Moon’s Shadow, I was shocked, to say the least. Asaro’s latest book is the most bittersweet book in the series to date. As always, she does an incredible job melding the storylines from previous books. However, I think it’s important that someone new to this series start with the first book, Primary Inversion, to experience the overall nuances of the characters.
The book begins with Jaibriol Qox III trading himself to Eube for the return of his uncle Eldrin to Skolia. With this trade, Jai will become the emperor of Eube. He sent samples of his DNA to verify he is the late emperor’s son. Unfortunately, no one from the Ruby Dynasty will know the extent of his sacrifice. His mother and father are dead, and his siblings are safe on Earth with no knowledge of what Jai has done. Jaibriol II (the late emperor) and Sox were determined to keep their children safe from the war between Eube and Skolia, but could not fully realize this goal and were killed in their efforts.Jai’s closest relation on Eube, Corbal Xir, steps up to assist the young emperor. Of course, since Xir would most likely be emperor in the event of Jai’s death, Jai is very hesitant to trust him, as he is any Aristo. Jai grew up in a loving, warm family and the transition to the Highton Aristo emperor is jarring and lonely for him. It doesn’t help matters that Jai is what the Aristos would consider a Provider, and he must hide his telepathic powers or be thrust into slavery or killed. Strangely, he feels no pressure from Xir’s mind, as he does other Aristos, which makes Xir the most comfortable person for Jai to be around.
The story line is complex, as with all of Asaro’s books, and more so with this one because of the intricacies and the inherent treachery of the Aristo culture. Jai makes mistakes and must decide who to trust while attempting to make peace with the Ruby Dynasty, his family, who will never know his real identity. It is worse for him because he cannot reveal himself to anyone on Eube either. It’s a lonely, precarious tightrope he must walk. He is determined to prevail however, to honor his parents who died while trying to bring peace between Eube and Skolia.
Like earlier books in this series, there is an underlying romantic element. Jai’s choice of empress is an unheard-of departure for an Highton.Tarquine Iquar holds a position in his cabinet and is a very powerful woman. She definitely has her own agenda, as does everyone surrounding the emperor. She also has some important secrets of her own. It took me a while to warm up to her, but she comes to love Jai in spite of herself and is rather ferocious where he is concerned.
One of the fascinating aspects of this book was the insight into Highton Aristo culture, and in particular, Xir’s and Tarquine’s characters. They have made a departure from their own cultural heritage in a significant way, but in all other ways still have the Highton Aristo values which embrace slavery and treachery as normal realities of life. Watching Jai try to absorb and live this dichotomy without accepting it, (he must own slaves as the emperor, yet would be considered a slave if anyone knew the truth about his identity) was intriguing and masterfully written. The insight into Jai’s character is engaging and painful. Asaro does a wonderful job of revealing his inner turmoil and sense of loss. He literally gives up everything he loves in order to save the galaxy.
I enjoyed The Moon’s Shadow book immensely, but because of the turmoil Jai endures, it was a difficult read. Still, it’s a worthy addition to Asaro’s fantastic series, and I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment. Plus I have one to catch up on while I wait!