It is the age of the Celestial Empire and the mighty civilizations of Imperial China and Mexica have taken their ancient war into space. Fifty years in the future, the two sides are stuck in a cold war on Earth and now fight a desperate war of attrition for control of the red planet. Nine disgraced soldiers are picked to mount a suicide mission by piloting a salvaged Mexica spacecraft to Xolotl, the asteroid stronghold of their enemies. For the imperial soldiers this is their final chance for redemption.
As you can tell, the book is told in an alternate historical universe. It imagines what the world might be like if China had not entered an isolationist period following the Great Fleet sailings but rather went expansionist. A chronology in the appendix gives a handy reference to how history might have gone differently. Roberson goes in-depth on the cultures of the Chinese and Mexica but without getting bogged down in the details. The novel is similar to Thomas Harlan’s Wastelands of Flint but I think Roberson’s book is better written.
There was one thing about Roberson’s universe about which I found it hard to suspend my disbelief. The Chinese conquered the Mexica around 1900 AD and thus managed to bring the entire world under one single rule. Yet the Mexica later managed to throw off Chinese control and establish a detente. It seems a little unbelievable that the Chinese, who control all of the world’s land and population aside from Mexico, is unable to hold the Mexica. There was a brief scene in the book where we catch a glimpse of the Mexica mentality so perhaps this will be touched on a bit more in later books.
The book was fast-paced and had lots of action. Roberson didn’t waste too much time with non-essential plot devices. I did think the resolution of the climax was a little too easy but other than that it was pretty good. The only major problem I found is that Roberson tends to explain too much of the plot. He tells rather than shows so there’s very little actual tension in the story.
One last thing: it would be nice if the publishers would stop putting plot spoilers in the books’ blurb. The Inferior by Peadar Ó Guilín had this problem and so did The Dragon’s Nine Sons. Seriously, how hard is it to summarize a book without spoiling the book for the reader?
There are two more books set in Roberson’s universe to be released, and from what I’ve seen so far, the series certainly has promise. Recommended.