This is the first Neal Asher book I’ve read and I was impressed. The plot moved along at a good pace, with not a wasted word in sight.
Penny Royal is an AI gone rogue. Liberating itself from its former home as a ship’s AI, it now lives in the border areas between the humans and the Prador, giving those who dare come to it their heart’s desires. The end result is rarely what they wanted, but exactly what they asked for. Spear and Satomi are two humans who want to find Penny Royal. Spear is an ex-soldier who can remember being killed by Penny Royal, while Satomi runs a successful crime syndicate in the border areas.
All is not how it seems.
Satomi gets her wish fulfilled, but in a dark and terrifying way and becomes the target for Spear, obsessed with finding his killer.
There are several twists and turns as the story cracks along, some of which I could see coming, but most I could not. There are minor characters who end up being not so minor and an ancient God who turns out….I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
Right to the end you’re never sure if Penny Royal is good or bad. Did she escape a prison or has she, to coin a phrase, turned to the dark side. Even at the end, when all the stories are finished and tied up you’re not sure. Philosophically, that’s very human. Do we really know whether we are good or bad?
The world Asher has built is fascinating. A post-war galactic society traumatised through fighting an enemy who saw humans as a food source. Yet as the story unfolds, this view is challenged as the changes in Prador society are revealed. Are they really just animals, or is there something deeper there?
As an action adventure the book is a superb read that keeps you turning pages. But there is more to it. There’s a depth I wasn’t expecting in the story, that asks questions about us, who and what we are and how we view life.
Every reader will see something different and come to different conclusions about reality, about the characters of Spear, Satomi and Penny Royal and about the universe around us.
Are societies as simple as they are portrayed, are people? What is good and are those we paint as evil really evil? Who decides?
If all you want from an SF book is an imaginative backdrop to a thumping good story you won’t be disappointed. If you want a story that will live with you for a long time afterwards, I can highly recommend Dark Intelligence.