Humanity made it to space … unfortunately they weren’t alone out there and the beings they met weren’t friendly.

From the book jacket

The first intelligent species to encounter mankind attacked without warning. With little hope of halting the invasion, Earth’s last roll of the dice was to dispatch three colony ships, seeds of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy. The human race would live on … somewhere.

Over a century later, the planet Darien hosts a thriving human settlement. But mankind’s new home harbors secrets dating back to the dawn of history. Secrets that could yet see a devastating war erupt across the entire galaxy …

Definitely an excellent start and while there are some things that I didn’t really like about the book – specifically all the names and races that are mentioned and introduced … I do not expect that humans should be the “center” of the universe by any means, but considering that the book starts out by mentioning “the first intelligent species that encounters mankind” you wouldn’t expect that there would be so many different races, empires and alliances to be abounding.

If in fact Earth was in a universe full of intelligent life, why were none of the others encountered – its easy to say that the first species was so violent but if the Earth ships that had been dispatched as mentioned (by hyperspace by the way … if they had this technology why was this not exploited earlier also?) then they would have found a universe full of other lifeforms.

Sorry, I know that this is a little bit petty, but it is something that is annoying right at the beginning and has definitely spoiled some of the enjoyment of this book for me.  With that out of the way however … the underlying story and the historical connotations of the great war in the history of the universe along with the whole hyperspace and stratification of universes is really cool. I also really liked the “undreaming” (i.e. artificial lifeforms) and the great war that had taken place between them and the other ancient races in the historical past. I also like the fact that this is actually something that is historically distant (thousands and hundreds of thousands of years ago) and not just several generations different.

In the Beginning

The book starts on the plains of Mars with a last ditch battle from some human marines against “The Swarm” … insect like aliens that had pushed humanity all the way back into their own backyard. The human marines make a suicide attack on a swarm base granting humanity a brief window in which to launch its three colony ships into the void before the Swarm arrives.

… and Fade

We are then introduced to the human colonists on a planet called Darien … descendants of one of the colony ships that fled Earth during the invasion. The colonists of Darien were forced to survive without any artificial intelligence assistance as during their travels their own ships AI tried to kill them. As such they have a deep seated wariness and fear of any AI based lifeforms.

The human colonists co-exist on the forest moon of Darien with another race of humanoid bipeds – the Uvovo. Seemingly backward tech-wise but in unison with nature, especially with forests, the “mystical” Uvovo live mostly on Darien’s moon Nyviesta, and had no problem cooperating with the colonists. Descendants of a significantly advanced society, the Uvovo are all that remain after a mysterious event that caused all life to be wiped out on the main planet over 100,000 years ago. Human scientists are exploring this event trying to determine what happened and are assisted in this by some of the Uvovo themselves.

The Story

Meanwhile, back on Earth, humanity was saved at the last moment by the powerful Sendruka Hegemony. The Hegemony forces are advocates of AI and utilize AI companions in all of their day to day endeavors and in fact have Avatars that are based on some of their most famous historical figures.

With a great Hegemony in this part of the galaxy responsible for Earth’s salvation and subsequent expansion, humanity are finally living amongst the stars with advanced AI technology. Similar to some other stories and books (see Alan Dean Fosters series – The Damned), humanities aggressiveness is pointed out as being different to that of the rest of the Universe and it is this aggressive nature that the Sendruka find useful.

Once the forces of the Hegemony and Earth discover the existence of Darien, a ship is immediately sent to re-establish relations with this splintered off shoot of humanity. However, while Earth wants to build some sort of connection, there are more sinister motives in place for the Hegemony and their AI companions. In addition, with Darien on the border of a disputed territory between a fanatical, even nastier Sendrukan offshoot and a powerful coalition that detests the Hegemony and all it stands for, a peaceful settlement is unlikely.

What Happens Next??

The stage is now set for a mass of revelations about the other two colony ships. What happened in that disastrous war 100,000 years ago and the still ongoing war between the undreaming and the remaining ancient races.

As you can see it is going to be quite a large series as there lots of different plot ends to tie up here and what Michael Cobley has done is create a massive, realistically imagined future in which this story can really grow. This is definitely an epic space opera. There are lots of battles and action, lots of different inter-related character with individual and varied perspectives, lots of politics and secrets that are only gradually explored. Also the aliens are not your typical Star Trek aliens – these are unique and fully realized species of their own, with their own history and worldview.

While I have not given you the full story here (for obvious reasons!), this book was one that I really enjoyed reading. There is a lot to like about it (and while there are a few quibbling little details I didn’t love, they are small and not really worth mentioning) and it is a really good start to an ambitious new series. I definitely recommend that you pick this one up and give it a read as you will thoroughly enjoy it.

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