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Review by Nigel Robert Wilson

This is a thoughtful tale built around humanity as an alien, interfering species on another planet which already sustains sentient life. This type of tale appears from time to time in contemporary science-fiction and some have the potential to become new classics in the genre but somehow manage to fall flat often for quite obscure reasons. This is a case in point.

There are two teenage brothers, Ednon and Syros, living on the planet Vena as part of a human settlement of ancient standing. Human endeavour has allowed it to become the primary species, but at the expense of technical regression and a brutal regime that directs its violence at the next most dominant species, the Alpelites whose capital, Asterleigh was conquered by humans a long time ago. Above Asterleigh is a huge image of the Alpelite god, Medzu who the humans have appropriated to their own use. It would seem this is the sentry being.

Ednon and Syros have been brought up by their grandfather, Ira ever since their parents were killed by Alpelite raiders. Ira is a pacifist with a public reputation as a visionary. Syros, the eldest is driven by the deaths of his parents to embrace a military career, whereas Ednon inclines to spiritual introversion, visions and the pacifism of his grandfather.

As well as the Alpelites there are two other native sentient species on the planet; the Willtors, who live underwater and who don’t appear much in this tale, and the Venians who are sentient, animal-like plants who periodically appear throughout the narrative. Their role is central to the final denouement, condemning both humans and Alpelites to almost a walk-on part, which is probably why the Venians are named after the planet itself.

Ednon and his potential girl-friend Amelia travel to the Grand Library of Asterleigh to collect a book for Ira. There, Ednon has a terrifying vision of a shadowy entity who tells him that the world will end and incites him to leave this world behind as the Holy Star of Sechen was travelling across the cosmos, indicating that the hands of the gods are in motion. Ednon and this entity would meet again on the shores of a neighbouring planet, Xerus.

The story really starts with this prophecy being set with Ednon selected as the Chosen One. From then on, the tale gets ugly as the true nature of humanity on Vena is revealed through the experiences of Ednon and Syros.

Syros gets mixed up in the ethnic cleansing of an Alpelite village, resists the orders of his officers and accidentally rescues Bora, a leading Alpelite soldier. Syros finds himself taken under the wing of Bora as he is now a traitor to his own side. Bora informs him that Asterleigh has a mystical significance to Alpelites which is why they continue to fight to recover the city. What is more,  Medzu’s image above the city is not a statue but an empty shell.

In the meantime, following the death of Ira, Ednon finds himself taken up into Asterleigh society as a figurehead to the pacifist movement. It turns out, however, that this pacifist movement is not at all peaceful; a portion of it is dedicated to violence.

This tale twists and turns in a very dramatic way. The passages describing visions peer into the human soul with a fascinating clarity. These in many ways hold the entire tale together. The climax is agreeably chaotic as Ednon and the shadowy entity conflate into one being just as the Star of Sechen eclipses. The image of Medzu comes alive as the planet splits apart.

If this entire tale had been restricted to just one volume and the plot tightened by good editing, it possessed the potential to become great science fiction. Sadly, it has been allowed to become just another of those rambling series about alien planets and the unfortunates who live and die there.