I do love her Skolian Saga. I love the back story, the lost colony scenarios, the space opera, the romance and the Ruby heirs. Not every book is what I want it to be, but I didn’t write them, eh? My favourites, for the record, are Primary Inversion and The Ruby Dice. I also like The Last Hawk, mostly because I read it after The Ruby Dice. That was another book that I had to sit on for a while, though. Reading it felt like a bit of a trial at times. It was long and Kelric suffers so much. But it really does build a character who is like no other in science fiction. And that’s Catherine Asaro’s specialty: building characters.
She builds worlds, too, and Balumil, the planet where she met the cast of characters for The Quantum Rose is one of her most interesting. It’s biosculpted rather than terraformed and the humans left to colonise it are engineered to cope with the long days and the years-long seasons that are the result of an elliptical orbit. I’m not terribly scientific, but that’s how I read it and it sounded pretty neat. As an aside, seeing as I’m already digressing, Asaro’s books are always full of hard maths and science. I sometimes grasp it, but not always. Rather than feel stupid, I’m usually just in awe of her intellect, though.
Kamoj is governor of Argali, which is a province, for want of a better term. For fifteen years she has been betrothed to Jax Ironbridge, who is governor of a larger province. But there’s a new noble in town, the mysterious Havyrl Lionstar, and when he makes a bid for Kamoj’s hand, he inadvertently upsets the delicate balance of politics on Balumil. What follows reads something like a historical romance set in a science fiction future.
What usually bogs me down in Asaro’s novels is the sometimes repetitive explanations of facts, as if the author isn’t sure if we get it. In this instance, it’s the fact that Kamoj and everyone on her planet were engineered not only to adapt to the difficult environment, but to serve as slaves. They are a subservient people who bow to pressure, give succor to others even when they are hurting, and generally live to please others, often at detriment to themselves. It’s an interesting view of genetic engineering and a concept that takes the usual super soldier twist and does something else. What makes it more interesting here, in this novel, is that this is exactly how the Ruby Dynasty was created. The dynasty Havyrl Lionstar is part of. So, Vyrl has a lot in common with his new young wife. This helps both of them adjust to their change of circumstances, and because they resonate together, he as a Ruby Scion and Kamoj as an empath, together they are able to override their ‘programming’, for the good of her world and his.
If you haven’t read Catherine Asaro before, or are unfamiliar with the Skolian Saga, you might be a little lost about now. One thing Asaro does do in each book of the saga is inject enough information to catch up the casual reader. I often chafe at having to read through it again and again, but sometimes I pick up a new fact or two. The edition of The Quantum Rose I read also has a nice family chart for the Ruby Dynasty and some explanation of the science behind the unique naming conventions on the planet Balumil and how the author tied them into the story.
The reason I decided to bump this up to four stars, even though it’s not close to my favourite entry in the saga is mostly because of the story behind the story. The stuff that got me thinking: the examination of genetic engineering—the pitfalls and morality and what it all might mean for our future. As always, I also enjoyed Asaro’s commentary on the male and female roles. She has definite ideas here. On the surface, her characters fit an expected mold, but underneath they are always much more complex, and that’s what makes The Quantum Rose worth reading.
*Review cross-posted from Goodreads. When writing reviews, I rarely consider a rating. I prefer to talk about what worked for me, as a reader, rather than try to quantify the experience. Goodreads uses a rating system, however, and I use that to sort my favourites.