This semi-fantasy novel has a lot of lofty ambition. Unfortunately, it falls short of just about every goal it sets for itself, save only as a good story. If it didn't try so darn hard, you wouldn't even notice its shortcomings, however, like the novels of Sheri Tepper, you can't separate this book from it socio-political preaching.
Race and gender are the two big hot-buttons here, with bio-warfare and terrorism as sidekicks, as Shinn gives us a dualistic world where the two major races are the matriarchal indigo and the second-class patriarchal gulden. The indigo are basically Victorian England with a gender reversal, while the gulden seemed to represent (despite the more obvious racial parallel to blacks) a sort of Arab-Muslim society that we're not supposed to approve of. (This comparison is only more striking since there's a land struggle that parallels the Isreali-Palestinian conflict, with the gulden participating in the more conventional bombing-style terrorism.) Despite the fact that this books is about a "forbidden love" and "two races", both protaganists are indigo - one, a male scientist starting to squirm at the thought of marrying his rich fiancee and giving up his career to become a good househusband, the other, a high-caste heiress who's spent most of her childhood among the gulden and who is the lover of the gulden's most notorious terrorist/hero. When Nolan, the scientist, uncovers a plot against the gulden, he kidnaps Kit, the heiress, and uses her to get into gulden society so he can warn them.
Aww, how altruistic. I can't even count the number of times Nolan "stubbornly" asserts, "It's the right thing to do," when both gulden and indigo alike stare in disbelief and say, "I wouldn't have done it." Neither side of this conflict comes out particularly attractive: the gulden are ruthless and opportunistic, the indigo are condescending snobs.
And what the heck is the point of giving us a matriarchal society when you don't do anything with it? OK, I can accept not wanting to just give us the "women in charge would mean Utopia" line. But you'd think that it would mean a few differences. Instead, again, the indigo are nothing more than the Victorians. Worse, the women in power manage to combine the worst aspects of both men and women of that era - patronizing, scheming, and class-obsessed, but also flighty, shallow, and more concerned with social events than politics.
The main trouble with this book remains that it tries to be too many things and ends up not being enough of any of them. A good story, marred by boring characters, an unconvincing romance, and a hard-to-swallow premise.