The opening is very strong, drawing the reader in like a good detective novel (such as Donaldson used to write long ago, I'm told). Quickly, though, we are introduced to Angus Thermopyle and Morn Hyland, and the misdeeds of Thomas Covenant are simply dwarfed by the foulness the reader is asked to digest here. And it isn't just Angus and Morn. Virtually everyone in the novel commits one form of atrocity or another, but as with Covenant, the reader is invited to view reality from each character's point of view so that such behavior can be at least understood (but rarely justified).
The setting is in the distant future. Earth has expanded to an empire encompassing several stellar systems, and they have met their first true enemy, the Amnion, a race light years ahead of us in terms of genetics. The Amnion are essentially portrayed as a ruthless, canny race, patiently waiting for everything to fall into place so that they can overwhelm humanity. In between the two are the pirates, who make deals with anyone to get money or new technology. Angus is among the worst, and his story begins with a conflict with another pirate, Nick Succorso, but the stakes soon grow so that powers at the highest levels of both races are chasing after one or both of them.
Like any other series, there are characters all over the map, and it takes some effort to keep them all straight, particularly the ones in the Earth-based government. That may be because the plotline that didn't directly involve Nick, Morn and Angus wasn't that compelling. It was indeed fitting that, at the end, all of the political machinations (carried out while the primary characters were in deep space) were only made relevant by the fact that they served as a crucial diversion during the climax.
As for the main plot, I suppose the reason that I was disappointed is that this really didn't feel like an EPIC. Not once did I feel a deep appreciation for the magnitude of the circumstances, no twinges like I felt reading about events in Revelstone, Kiril Threndor, Coercri, etc. from the Covenant series. This was simply an interesting (if somewhat depraved) story about several ordinary characters, many of whom take on the role of anti-heroes. It was certainly original, but it was not deeply satisfying.
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