Skyfall (2003) is the ninth novel in the Skolian Imperialate series, but is the first in internal sequence. Around 4000 BC, a group of humans were transported from Earth by aliens to the planet Raylicon and, over the next twelve centuries, built an interstellar empire. This empire was ruled by the Ruby Dynasty, a line of empaths and telepaths. They achieved a level of technology that was capable of rearranging solar systems and of modifying the genetic structure of their colonists. The collapse of the Ruby Empire left the colonies isolated from Raylicon.
After more than four millennia, the Raylicons began to regain their lost technology and reattained interstellar flight in 1843 AD. Shortly thereafter, genetic experiments by Doctor Hezahr Rhon created a new breed of psions, the Aristos, who could receive but not transmit. Moreover, these Aristos experienced pleasure when receiving the pain of others. The Aristos separated themselves into a new polity, the Eubian Concord, and started conquering Raylicon planets and enslaving the populations.
In 1904 AD, Lahaylia Selei founded the Imperialate in opposition to the Eubian Aristos and activated an ancient Lock to restore the Kyle interstellar web, thereby giving the Skolians the huge advantage of instantaneous communications. After two centuries of reigning as the Pharoah and sole Ruby psion of the Imperialate, Lahaylia found and married another Ruby psion, Jarac, who activated a second Lock to increase the power and scope of the Kyle web. Jarac became the Imperator, the commander of all Imperialate armed forces. Their marriage produced two daughters, Dyhianna and Roca.
In this novel, in 2203 AD, three centuries after the founding of the Imperialate, Roca is trying to evade the agents of her son Kurj in order to return to Parthonia for the debate and vote on invading the Platinum Sectors. The Eubians have brashly taken over the entire region against the prior claims of the Imperialate and the metals in those sectors are urgently needed to maintain Imperialate technology. Roca is against the invasion plans. However, Kurj has her proxy and is determined to keep her from attending the session so that he can use her votes to support the proponents of the invasion. Kurj has been so warped by his mistreatment by his abusive stepfather and by later experiences with the sadistic Eubians that he is totally opposed to any accommodation with the Eubians. Moreover, he will do anything to protect his mother, even if she doesn't want him to do so.
In her flight, Roca is stranded on Capsize, an antiquated spaceport that doesn't even have foul weather guidance systems. Her only transportation is a rusty bucket of bolts that looks like it can't get off the ground unassisted. However, it holds together long enough to take her to Skyfall, where she should be able to transfer to another ship going in the right direction.
Her first glimpse of Skyfall is captivating; it has blue clouds in a lavender sky. The grasses propagate by releasing bubbles that float away on the breeze. The local inhabitants reside in a storybook castle.
Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat less picturesque: the water contains harmful chemicals and the castle is necessary for protection from raiding neighbors; however, the grass is benign. The Allied administrator, who is the entire staff of the spaceport, is friendly and makes her comfortable. She learns that Skyfall is a low tech world with a feudal-like society. Although the Allied Worlds of Earth have claimed the world, it is obviously an ancient colony of the Ruby Empire. As they are talking, a crowd of locals ride up on their animals and surround the port house. In the ensuing conversation, the locals get excited, their leader Eldri lifts her up onto his lyrine, and the whole party gallops away.
Eldri is a strong psion, probably with Ruby Dynasty genes. Her first glimpse of him floods her mind with his feelings and thoughts. Although he doesn't know what is happening, he too receives her feelings and an inkling of her thoughts. They are immediately infatuated with each other, but Roca forces him to behave and almost talks him into returning her to the port. However, his charming personality and the Ruby pheromones overcome her resistance to the point that she agrees to ride with him to his home and return the following day. Unfortunately, his castle is located in the nearby mountains and the weather turns to snow. Lots of snow. So much snow that she misses the supply ship for which she is waiting. Now she is stranded on Skyfall for at least a year.
Meanwhile, back on the Orbiter, the mobile command post of the Imperialate armed forces, Kurj is quietly going crazy over his mother's disappearance. He knows that she has fled because of his actions and he is desperately hoping that she has not come to any harm. He has all available intelligence resources searching for her and he himself spends hours at a time in the web checking obscure databases for references to her. Unfortunately, his mother was a famous dancer even before she became a high level politician and the sheer number of references is overwhelming.
In this story, Roca and Eldri fall in love and, despite her nanomeds, she becomes pregnant. Then a local enemy lays siege to Windward, Eldri's castle. Moreover, Eldri is having grand mal seizures which are coming at more frequent intervals and threaten his life.
This story starts slowly, but builds momentum to the point that the ending seems to flash by in an instance. The politics is frustrating, since it impels characters in unnatural directions. However, the call to duty is finally beat into subservience and the Skolia family members stop tormenting themselves over ideology. While the ending is not entirely a happy one, there is reconciliation, acceptance and rapport.
Highly recommended for Asaro fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of couples overcoming their own misconceptions and environmental obstacles to achieve happiness within a complex society.
-Arthur W. Jordin