Guy Erma and the Son of Empire by Sally Ann Melia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Guy Erma and Son of Empire by Sally Ann Melia
Once you start this book you won't put it down. It is a tightly woven well crafted tale that has all the mystery and suspense and intrigue that many of the old classics had. This novel wants to grab you and pull you through one adventure to the next with just enough time to put your head above the water and gasp for breath; then hold onto the seat of your pants ‘cause we got another reckless slide up ahead. Sometimes the pace seems relentless and yet there is a lot of time spent with the grandeur of world building, which tells you that there were some quiet moments; they just got filled with interesting narrative about the world and the people and the creatures.
This novel truly has everything. Character's with depth; and breath. Almost overwhelming sometimes; yet at the same time I never lost track of who was who in the large cast. The narrative takes the reader through the examination of prejudices and tenuous alliances and political intrigue that rival those in such classics as the Dune sagas.
The story starts with Karl Valvanchi, a Zaracan warrior, at Mezzatorra on the planet Sas Darona; a territory that is under dispute. The Freyne Empire believes it should be theirs. Karl is fighting a cold war of suspicion that the people inciting and helping the natives of Sas Darona to commit terrorist acts are part of the Dome Elite of the Freyne Empire. In the introduction we see the horrible result of the terrorists work and the one momentary gleam of hope for Karl when they capture a Dome Elite; only to watch as the proof slips through his fingers. And the damage is done because somehow someone has stolen s high tech virus from the Mezzatorra facility. (A virus that shouldn't exist; because the goal was to find a cure for a virulent virus on the planet; while someone of the Zaracan and the United Races thought it might make an interesting weapon.)
Next we switch to Freyne 2 where we meet the two main protagonist characters. It might take a while for them to realize they are both protagonists; but they get there before the end of the novel. Prince Teodor lives a structured life and the introduction to him is ambiguous as we see him in a somewhat weakened state, but it's a human weakness of fear based on history and a duty he needs to perform soon. His father and brother were murdered by a terrorist bomb while visiting the Dome where the Dome Elite are trained. He is now scheduled to visit and entertain the orphans in the Dome and he's frightened for his life. But duty calls and his mother Regent Sayginn has her own problems; what with unwanted advances from Emperor, now that she’s a widow, and her attempts at trying to maintain order on Freyne 2 until her son is ready to take control.
The society on Freyne is quite complex and the other main character is Guy Erma, an orphan living in the Dome, whose dream is to become one of the Elite. But even doing that is a quite complex task fighting a complex social structure that is stacked against him. And from here we are introduced to Chart Segat, the man who heads the Dome Elite once a friend of Teodor's father Serge and now a man who plays dangerous political games since his friends death. One of those games includes Guy because Guy is not what he appears to be and Chart Segat means to take every advantage. And everyone keeps telling Guy that to become part of Elite he must do whatever Chart Segat says.
Add to this mix Karl Valvanchi's brother Nikato is the ambassador to Freyne 2 and that their father is also an ambassador; it becomes understandable that, when Nikato uses their father to influence (strong-arm) Karl into sending some members of the local tribes on Sas Darona to Freyne on a sort of diplomatic cultural exchange, that Karl decides to come along for a visit and a bit of reconnaissance. There will be so many reasons he might regret that later; but you will have to read that to find out about those. For now when Prince Teodor is kidnapped Karl is enlisted by the Regent to help find him, so that's one good outcome of his coming to Freyne 2.
As you should see by now, this is becoming complex and this is only the tip of the iceberg; because there is so much more to the world that Sally has created. And it is all tightly woven while at the same time the narrative is handled so smoothly that it doesn't feel overwhelming.
There is almost the hint of one more main protagonist in the young Princess Nell Valvanchi, a niece of Karl's. Unfortunately she is not as strong a character as I was hoping to find in the work. But when you read you will see that there are plenty of reasons for that; and more than enough distractions in the plot to justify toning some of it down.
The plot itself seems to feel often like a rollercoaster ride; though it might be because of the extensive world building built into the scenes. This creates a rather protracted pace that though not too disturbing may account for what I felt was the one letdown at the end of the novel.
The novel ends well enough and I would give this a five star if it were not for the fact that I somehow perceived that the last chapter and the epilogue were two things that I could have done without. As I said I don't have a problem with how it ended and I don't think I have a problem with those two sections at the end setting things up for the next book. What struck me was that somehow the writing felt like it went from very tight to frayed at the ends.
I can't say more without giving up much; so again when you read the book you can make your own judgment. I might just be overreacting.
This is a great SFF for all fans of Fantasy and Science Fiction. If you loved Dune you'll love this and even if you may have struggled through Dune you won't find this as much a struggle because the narrative is set to let the details flow around the reader as you dive further into the novel.
Loved it and will be looking for more.
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