Ace Books, 2005, 352 pages
Centuries in the past, mankind fought a seemingly unbeatable adversary from sector to sector across the Spiral Arm until the war ground to a standstill and the Enemy withdrew. Believing that they had won, the citizens of the galaxy rebuilt. The Inner Worlds, which had escaped the worst of the war's ravages, became even more insular, while the Rim worlds adopted a free and easy way with law and order. Now, hundreds of years after their withdrawal, the Enemy is back - and this time they'll be satisfied with nothing less than the extinction of the galaxy.
I almost didn't write a review of this book because it made such a non-impression on me. You know how I often mock space opera but I keep reading it? Because when done right, space opera is still awesome, but I've become pickier and more critical as I've gotten older, and it's a lot harder to wow me than when I was a teenager reading Robert Heinlein and Piers Anthony.
I haven't read any of the other Liaden Universe books, but the history of the series is kind of interesting: the first three books (published in the 80s) did poorly, but acquired a dedicated following online, back in USENET days. Husband and wife team Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have been cranking away at it ever since.
Crystal Soldier is actually the ninth book in the Liaden Universe series, but the series apparently spans several different story arcs, widely diverging in time, and Crystal Soldier is the first book in a "prequel" saga.
So, not to be mean, but I can see how this is a series that could have quickly dropped off the radar when published as yet another sci-fi paperback series. It's perfectly serviceable space opera, but there is little about the prose, the characters, or the plot that I found particularly original or memorable.
The setting is a universe at war, humankind against the genetically engineered Shereika. They're kind of like Saberhagen's Berserkers, a faceless, inhuman, but devious and adaptable enemy that just wants to kill the whole universe.
Despite being at war, the human-occupied galaxy is a fairly standard sci-fi setting with a space navy, a bunch of merchants, traders and pirates, outlaws, secret rebel bases, yada yada yada.
There are two main characters: M. Jela, a genetically engineered soldier on a special mission, and Cantra, a solo smuggler who of course has her very own dark mysterious origin. The two of them are thrown together by fate on Cantra's ship, along with Dulsey, another genetically engineered person, this one an escaped slave, and go from one harrowing escape to another, dodging interplanetary crime bosses, secret rebel leaders, and Shereika agents while bickering at each other.
So, a little bit of Star Wars, a little bit of Firefly, a little bit of every classic space opera you've ever read, and even though Crystal Soldier was written in 2005, it reads much like something written in the 80s.
I liked it okay, but that's it. My reaction was much the same as when I read The Phoenix in Flight, another old-school space opera epic being resurrected in the ebook era: if I was lacking something to read I might pick another one up, but I don't feel motivated to continue the series.
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