The first book in an SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 52 minutes
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Captain Kel Cheris is a young infantry captain in service to the galactic Hexarchate. She finds a way to win in a difficult situation but it’s disgraced for it, because she used an unorthodox, almost heretical, methods. Right at the start we see the Kel in action, using formations which are the most important strategy elements. Afterwards, Cheris thinks that she’s going to be dismissed but instead she’s invited to a group which is thinking of ways to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles which the heretics have taken. Apparently, the only way to storm it is a siege and it should be led by general Shuos Jedao who hasn’t been defeated in battle yet. Except that Jedao died three hundred years ago, after murdering his whole army. But the Hexarchate have preserved his mind digitally and it’s possible to download it to the mind of a volunteer. Cheris volunteers. The general isn’t what she expected. He’s mostly rational, or at least pretends to be, but he’s of course very manipulative.

The Fortress is tactically very important. If Cheris and Jedao can’t get it back, their whole society might collapse.

This was not an easy to book to get into. The reader is thrown in the middle of a battle into a very complex society and the author doesn’t explain much. Also, Cheris isn’t the only POV character. Most likely, the different POVs are differentiated better in the print book, but sometimes in the audio book they aren’t so clear when my attention wanders. There are also stuff, especially the physics and mathematics, which I didn’t get. I need to relisten the whole thing before getting the next book. Or maybe read it as a print book. The unfamiliar names were also tough in audio.

But once I got over the huge learning curve, the book was fascinating. I really enjoyed both Cheris and Jedao and their conversations were great. The siege is quite slow but I didn’t mind that. Cheris has seen raised from a child to be obedient, loyal, and conform. Jedao is from a time before Kel soldiers were raised like that. Yeah, their first names are also the name of the social group they belong to.

The Hexarchate is also a fascinating society despite being a very oppressive one, too. It’s based on a calendar which everyone has to follow, including feast days and remembrance days with different rituals, like ritual torture of prisoners or private meditation. The calendar makes possible to use what is called “exotic physics” which are used as weapons and can also affect local environment. If a certain number of the people don’t follow the calendar, the exotic physics don’t work. So, these people, called heretics, are persecuted mercilessly.

Men and women serve in the military without any comment. None of them are really described much, neither are the ships (called moths) or the fortresses, nor, indeed much at all.