I loved this book! I thought it was excellent, especially for the first book in a trilogy. It is unique, has a nice historical fiction element to it, has elements to it that border on military sci fi, hard science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the surreal. I thought Harlan tied it together pretty well.
In this book, the Aztecs won North American dominance, if not over most of the world many years ago. Now, however, most of the world is ruled by Méxica from the capital of Tenochtitlan, aided by the Japanese, who supply their military. Their only real economic and military human competion is from the Swede-Russian alliance.
Millions of years ago, the First Sun People dominated the galaxy with their technology, living and moving from planet to planet. Some of their leftover technology is rarely but occasionally found on various planets and it’s worth a fortune.
In the book, xenoarcheologist Dr. Gretchen Anderssen has been employed by an unnamed company to go to Ephesus III to find a previous expedition and to obtain as many valuable archeological items that she can, to make the trip (s) worthwhile. At the same time, Imperial cruiser, the Henry R. Cornuelle, is sent to the same location captained by Captain Hadeishi Mitsuharu of the Imperial Méxica Navy. He is carrying a secretive Imperial “judge” with unlimited powers, whose name is Huitzilozoctic, or Green Hummingbird. The name not only means “judge,” but it also means “sorcerer.” It sometimes seems like his power cannot be matched.
Anderssen and her team go to down to the planet’s surface to find important relics they believe to be First Sun relics. These could be dangerous and certainly are powerful. Green Hummingbird views these as hugely dangerous and declares the planet and the space around it off limits to any and every one. Mitsuharu is sent after a gigantic freighter that is now is a huge asteroid field to fire upon it, if necessary, board it, and issue Hummingbird’s commands. Meanwhile, Hummingbird makes his way to the planet. Anderssen is obsessed with finding these objects, to the point of ignoring her crew and going all over the planet tracing the final steps of a scientist who had been impacted by these artifacts and gone insane and disappeared. Hummingbird watches, but follows from a distance. Eventually, he intrudes upon her and they end up traveling together in increasingly dangerous places and situations. Hummingbird believes it’s necessary to bring balance to the planet and the things on the planet to ward off First Sun evil. Gretchen doesn’t understand him, but he tries to teach her. As they go into caves and are attacked by spirits and are followed by relentless shadows, and possible aliens, she starts to wonder and he then tells her she can’t see the real world, she doesn’t know. Her science is no good, which ticks her off. A battle between mysticism and rationalism results. While judges aren’t psychics, they exist to protect the species at ANY cost, including the extermination of entire worlds, and they have reached the absolute best of human perceptual training, among other things. They can’t always necessarily foretell the future, but it seems they see strains of future possibilities. They can bring balance to dark forces, right evil things, manipulate people and things to do their bidding, as long as it meets their final goals.
Hummingbird, at some point, asks Anderssen if she would like to see, actually SEE, to learn, to be exposed to things she’s never dreamt of, and in a moment of either weakness, bravery, or power seeking, she agrees, and as time is of the essence and he can’t take the time to properly train her, he gives her an intense drug that virtually destroys her existence. She lies in a coma-like trance for hours, going through dreams, fantasies, pain, experiences, etc., and wakes many hours later, and she SEES. It’s like living in another dimension. She can see every fiber on every blade of grass in 3D, color illuminated. She can see Hummingbird as he really is, birds, trees, ants, like she’s never seen them before, and she understands things like she’s never been able to understand them before. She understands the universe as inherently hostile and now knows the judges’ need to protect humanity. She’s cautiously excited and repelled at the same time. However, the evil aliens are after them and they must continue to their flight to the planet’s base camp to await extraction.
While waiting, she is given another drug, which goes even further. There, however, for the third, I believe, time, she sees a First Sun alien who appears before her in her own image, talking to her while she tries to escape. Hummingbird has never been with her when she has encountered this alien.
I won’t say what happens at the end, but it wasn’t entirely what I expected and I’ve read that some people are a little disappointed by it. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. It was just unexpected. It’s an exciting, action packed, intense, horror-tinged, mind fuck with more to come in future books. If Book Two is as good as this first one is, I’ll be very happy. Five stars. Definitely recommended.