City of Pearl
I’ve really enjoyed reading Karen Traviss’ Star Wars novels and was devastated when I learned she wouldn’t be adding anything further to the Expanded Universe. But, of course, Star Wars isn’t all that Traviss has written. Rather than read her contributions to other book series, I decided to read a series of science fiction novels that belong to Karen Traviss alone.
The first novel in the Wess'har Wars six part series, City of Pearl, is set a couple of hundred years in the future and centers around Environmental Hazard Enforcement Police Officer Shan Frankland. On an overcrowded and environmentally depleted Earth, Shan is charged with policing corporations and making sure they comply with rules and regulations set forth by the government. Shan is close to retirement and plans to settle down somewhere she can plant a garden of her own. The seeds she will start off with are contraband in this future Earth, but she wants the real deal, not something messed with by scientists.
But when Shan is visited by Senator Perault and administered a Suppressed Briefing of a new mission, she puts her thoughts of retirement on hold to travel to Cavanagh’s Star, a planet that will take 75 Earth years to get to. The last time anyone traveled to Cavanagh’s Star (a colonist group named Constantine) they were never heard from again. Joining Shan on this journey would be a group of scientists and a marine unit.
Upon arrival, bits and pieces of the mission reveal themselves to Shan, but nothing in her briefing could prepare her for the fact that Constantine’s colony still exists all these years later. It also could never prepare her for the three separate alien species claiming rights to the planet. Caught in the midst of a possible war between alien species, Shan does what she can to protect her people, but it isn’t easy, especially when her scientists refuse to follow the rules set forth by the colonists.
The longer she stays on Cavanagh’s Star and the closer she gets to the alien life forms protecting the planet, the more she realizes that they are the ones that need protecting - from her scientists and the outside world. And when a special secret about the planet is revealed to Shan, she realizes that her dreams of returning home may never be realized.
The idea that Earth will eventually be overcrowded and its resources depleted leading to colonization of other planets is utterly believable, but not overly new in the sci-fi world. Thus, when writers decide to take on an idea like this, they have to throw in some extras to keep the reader interested: interesting characters, good writing and unique plot twists, just to name a few. Karen Traviss starts off by creating a very likeable strong, female character in Shan Frankland. This is a tough gal with some understandable and relatable vulnerabilities with a clear moral and ethical code. She has an issue with technological advances that involve body implants and privacy infringements. This is a character that I readily related to and instantly took a liking to.
Once on the planet, we meet the colonists, a religious sect with a clear understanding of what it means to protect their new environment thanks to the alien "enforcer" that roams among them. The alien known as Aras is quite intriguing. A multi-layered character, Aras is both enforcer, protector, teacher and friend. But, although seemingly mild-mannered, we soon learn that Aras can have an extremely violent side as well.
The planet itself is quite interesting what with its radically different species. Between the vastly different aliens fighting over rights to the planet and the interesting ecology of the planet itself, this book is a science fiction fan's dream. We instantly want to know more about the planet, it's life forms and the reasons behind the tug of war between alien nations over this planet.
The writing is fast-paced and the characters are well-fleshed out and multi-layered, making them quite interesting. There is not a great deal of action in this book, but I didn't find it lacking in any way. The perils of the world itself and the issues between the aliens, colonists and Shan and her people were enough to maintain my interest. I loved that the character dialogue seemed very realistic and there were quite a few interesting lines in this book that I shared with others, such as "There is no shame in fear...it's nature's way of telling you not to be a dick-head." and "Perfect courage is to do without witnesses what one would be capable of with the world looking on."
City of Pearl is classic science fiction with an intriguing story, characters that you care about and a high believability factor. I was instantly hooked within the first few pages and finished the book in a couple of days. The first novel in the Wess'har Wars series was quite enjoyable. I can't wait to see what comes next!