Book Review

Skyfall by Catherine Asaro: A Guest Review by CarrieS

A-, None

Title: Skyfall
Author: Catherine Asaro
Publication Info: Tor 2003
ISBN: 978-0765345578
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Skyfall - Catherine Asaro Many readers of Smart Bitches have mentioned Catherine Asaro as science fiction romance author to check out.  She certainly seems like a nifty person – more accurately, she sounds like a very improbable romance heroine.

Among other things, she's a former professional dancer, has a Masters in Physics and a PhD in Chemical Physics from Harvard, she's won two Nebula Awards for her fiction, and she just composed a bunch of music for a CD that accompanies her latest book.  In her spare time, she knits intricately patterned fireproof scarves for firefighters from the wool she shears from her own herd of unicorns. 

I made that last part up.  If I sound bitter, don't worry, it's just the envy of her many accomplishments seeping from my pores as I type.

Anyway, I chose to start my education in the works of Catherine Asaro with Skyfall.  It's from her famous Skolian Saga, but it is a prequel.  The book opens with Roca, a leader in the Skolian Empire, desperate to get to a hearing so that she can vote against a war that her son, Kurj, is eager to start.  After hitching a ride with a cranky starship captain (a great character who promptly flew away and vanished from the book, leaving me bereft) she finds herself stranded on the planet Skyfall.  She is literally swept off her feet by local leader Eldrinson.  I thought this part would be annoying but actually it's sort of cute – he swoops her up onto his horse and charges away with her in true kid-nappy barbarian fashion, but realizes within only a few minutes that Roca is genuinely irked by being ran away with.  He offers to return her to her port, and offers a very polite invitation to his castle as an alternative.  Who can turn down a polite invitation to a castle?  Then there's a weather problem, and a siege, and the next thing you know, time has passed and things have happened.

Skyfall is one of those books that I feel should have made me giddy.  It didn't – but I did feel a warm sense of contentment while reading it.  A lot happens in Skyfall, but there is also a lot of space in which people are waiting for things to happen.  In these spaces, they talk, they have sex (not explicit), they eat (bubble food!), and they sing and dance and sleep and scheme.   I liked having that time with the characters and ultimately that's the part of the book that I cared about.  The plot was not all that enthralling but I liked dreaming my way into the world.  I also thought the mix of fantasy (the castle) and science fiction (the Kyle Web, sort of a psychically powered Internet) was interesting.  I liked the characters and the depth and complexity of relationships between family members.  It was heartrending to see how much Roca's family loves one another and how poorly they get along, and at the same time I respected the fact that things weren't made all sunshiny with a few words of reconciliation.  I also liked the culture clashes.

What I didn't like was that the intricacies of the plot were not interesting to me- and I suspect that that has to do with jumping into the middle of a long series.  Even though the story of the characters in Skyfall worked fine as a stand-alone, all of the things that make their stories matter on a larger scale involve the full series of the Skolian Empire.  I could care less about the Skolian Empire based solely on this book.  I do care about Roca and Eldrinson and Roca's family.  Because of this, every time the story veered away from the relationships and towards space opera, I lost interest.  I'm not sure if that's because this book lacked sufficient context to appreciate the space opera on it's own, or if that simply reflects my personal preferences – it's generally true that I care about the happiness of specific characters more than any other aspect to a story, no matter how well written the other aspects may be.

If you were advising a reader to try Catherine Asaro, which book would you suggest they read first?  Also, if you read Skyfall, did you think for at least five minutes that Roca would, and ought to, end up with Brad?  Does the cranky starship captain show up in another book?  Inquiring minds (mine) want to know.  I suspect that this book earns an enthusiastic A from many readers- it is certainly solidly written and marvelously imaginative.  I'm giving it an A- because I can't fault its craft but it did not sweep me off my feet like I expect an A grade book to do.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Tam B. says:

    I started this series with The Last Hawk (Rocca’s son) and simultaneously desperately wanted a quis dice set (it’s from the book) and couldn’t believe that the guy was THAT gorgeous (handed over control of the world to get him!).

    I like this series (have read most if not all) but they jump around in time a lot.  Whilst one sibling is stranded on a planet, another is meeting deadly enemies, a cousin is lost in time on earth and it continues on. 

    It’s space opera and science and can sweep you up and boggle the brain trying to keep track of it all.

  2. 2
    FranA says:

    I have not read her before. I did however pick up a book by her, Alpha, a few weeks ago at the Goodwill store. I see there is a prequel, Sunrise Alley. I guess I should get my hands on that first before reading Alpha. Anyone read these?

  3. 3
    Lostshadows says:

    I have her series of fantasy romances, which I enjoyed. (Though The Night Bird has some troubling rapey bits.) Primary Inversions has been on my tbr pile for a while based on those. (I’m guessing it’s a good starting point for the Skolian series.)

  4. 4
    Carrie Gwaltney says:

    I’ve read Primary Inversion and loved it. Actually, I listened to it on audio and the great Anna Fields narrates it, which made the experience superb. I have Sunrise Alley and Alpha in print, but haven’t read them yet. We also have other ones around the house since my husband has read several of the series. She wrote them in a crazy order. The publication order is different than the internal chronology by a LOT. ;-)

    And yes, I got a little jealous when I read about her, too. Amazing.

  5. 5
    vulcan_girl says:

    I’ve read them in publication order, mostly, starting with Primary Inversion. I think starting with the Radiance Wars packs a more emotional punch than if you start at the chronological beginning since you start in the middle and move back and forth knowing what’s going to happen and having to watch it play out. It really works for me. I will admit that the Roca books and character aren’t my favorite, so that may be one reason why I like starting later.

    There are a lot of short stories as well, some with character backstory.

     

  6. 6
    Bamaclm says:

    I think some of her books are in the Baen free library. I got Sunrise Alley there.

  7. 7
    GHN says:

    I do love Catherine Asaro’s books – I have them all! Now, I must admit I like some of her books better than others. My favorite is Spherical Harmonic, which is definitely NOT recommended as a starting place – Dehya Seilei, the protagonist in this book, had somehow ended up stranded in Psiberspace (the telepathic “Internet”), and this book is about her coalescing into the normal universe again.
    My next-favorite in the series is the Quantum Rose, which _is_ a good starting place, and it is perhaps also the most romancey of her books.
    I can understand wanting Quis dice after reading The Last Hawk – I must admit I wanted a set myself after reading it. What I found rather unbelievable in that book, was the way Kelric (the protagonist) was traded between the Calanya (think harems) and he just going along with it. Ugh.

  8. 8
    Kate4queen says:

    I love her books but would recommend reading them in publication order so that you can understand what is going on. I loved the Quantum Rose too and Ascendant Sun (despite the cover) but they are all worth a read and a re-read :)

  9. 9
    Kate4queen says:

    I don’t think those two are as great as the Skolian series but they are interesting reading. :)

  10. 10
    Diatryma says:

    Most of her books are okay in rapeyness, but taken as a whole, hooboy they have issues.  They are mostly plots of a busty, thin, politically/psychically/physically weak heroine (often below the age of consent in her culture but above ours) being kidnapped or otherwise controlled by a large p/p/p strong man.  This is presented as a problem in part of Primary Inversion, but the next time we see that situation, the man has to be sympathetic… so the woman, who was clearly being victimized last we saw her, turns out to love him enough that it’s not, you know, skeezy as hell.

    But they are very readable individually.  I’d stick to Soz and what comes from her—Primary Inversion and chronologically later—because those are most interesting to me.

  11. 11
    Dancing Angel says:

    I think “The Radiant Seas” is a decent place to start – it introduces Asaro’s alpha heroine, Sauscony, and sets the backdrop for much of the Skolian Empire and the Radiance War.  Or, you could start with Kelric’s saga, “The Last Hawk,” and go on from there. 

    My favorite character is their brother Althor Izam-Na – who doesn’t love a six-foot eight cyborg with violet eyes, who turns out to be bisexual? – and I felt as though the series gave him short shrift, mainly to highlight how great Soz was.

  12. 12
    Hillary Wade says:

    I have a bunch of them, read most of those I don’t have and liked them all except for Diamond Star (a little too much sex, drugs and rock and roll for my taste…emphasis on the drugs, which conveniently don’t have much effect…) and I haven’t read that one’s sequel. I love Quantam Rose, but that’s one of the ones with the barely of age heroines, but she’s strong in her own way and it’s the most re-readable/stand-alone of the bunch. Kelrics books are fun, Roca’s books are ok, but my favorite’s are the ones with the most sci-fi, which are Soz’s books (Starting with the short stories about her at the academy and Primary Inversion). Something that no-one has mentioned yet and probably should be a warning is that there is incest, but it’s a situation forced on the couple. It’s hard to explain why this doesn’t really trigger squick factors without going into too much detail.

    As for Alpha, it’s not my favorite of her books, but Sunshine Alley is ok and actually, doesn’t the Phoenix Code belong at the beginning? I really like The Phoenix Code. And she’s got an old stand-alone called The Veiled Web, which I love even though it has tons of faults :) I remember that I like some of the fantasy stories, but I can’t remember which ones because they’re not that memorable. At least the books about the Skolia family are memorable, even when I didn’t actually like it!

  13. 13
    Anony Miss says:

    I have a sudden wish to be single so I can describe myself on dating websites as knitting fireproof scarves from my herd of unicorns.

  14. 14
    Shana says:

    I would suggest that romance readers begin with Catch the Lightning. It was one of the first two I read, and is more romance centric than Primary Inversion (the other).

  15. 15
    Suzette says:

    I’ve read the first three books of the Skolian Saga, but stalled out at book 3, The Last Hawk. If you are looking for a starting point, I think it really depends on what your taste is because the few books of hers that I have read are all very different.

    Primary Inversion is my favorite, mostly because I love interesting, powerful heroines. While the romance element is lacking, I liked the fact that Sauscony is older and more powerful than the hero, that she has a military background, while he is more cerebral, and that she is the more sexually experienced character. On the minus side of the column, there is cringe-inducing treatment of a disabled secondary character. If this is one of your hot buttons, then this is not the book for you.

    Catch the Lightning is my second favorite. It has more of a traditional romance setup with a young, virginal heroine and a powerful, mysterious hero. I enjoyed the story, though I found the narrative style annoying and the treatment of rape problematic. I felt llike the plot fell apart in the second half of the book, but I was never tempted to put it down.

    I hated The Last Hawk and would have DNF’ed it if I had not been listening to it on audio. I thought the hero was a Gary Stu, the plot was meandering and tedious, and the ending unsatisfactory on every level. This may work for readers who are into political or philosophical stories, but it put me to sleep.

    All of the Catherine Asaro books I’ve read share the same problems in that they are littered with massive info dumps and unecessary plot tangents. However, what I enjoy about all of the books above is that they are full of big ideas and smart women.

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