by Jane Lindskold
Tor, $24.99, 304 pp
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Young archaeologist, Griffin, is trying to find a way to make a mark in his life. He discovers evidence that enables him to find a long-lost planet Artemis. In her heyday, Artemis was the ultimate pleasure planet; completely manmade, it was where the elite went to pretend they were returning to nature. Lower class people were hired to provide local ‘color’ and be the guides and escorts for the upper class tourists. But there had been a terrible massacre during a power struggle that effectively isolated the planet leaving the population of guides and other support staff to develop their own culture. Several hundred years later, Griffin crash lands on the planet. The technology that created the planet and its attractions is so unknown now as to be nearly mythic. This will prove a problem for Griffin to find a way to get off-planet and return home.
Griffin meets Adara and her companion puma, Sand Shadow; which turned out to be a very good thing when the first thing she does is save his life. To his surprise, the planet hosted a simple culture that still guided itself based on the rules of the vanished upper class to whom they owed their reason for existence. Many of the genetically altered animals now bonded with genetically altered humans. To these inhabitants, Griffin seems to be one of those long-gone upper class overlords which imbues him with a certain mystique; wholly undeserved.
Griffin had intended to spend some months secretly observing the inhabitants before bringing his discovery back to the civilized worlds where he’d be feted. The unexpected crashing and destruction of his ship changed those plans rather dramatically. Now, he felt only urgency in finding a way off-planet; although… it would be rather nice to know what it was that crashed his supposedly un-crashable ship. Adara and her mentor decide to take him to see the person who passes for the closest thing to a Leader; a genetically modified human who has miraculously lived for generations without aging past his apparent age of twenty. Griffin found he had to play the part of a returning overlord but without revealing just how scanty was his knowledge of the past.
Griffin’s appearance is a catalyst for bringing secret things into the light, revealing treachery, and destroying friendships and alliances. The only question in his mind, though, is if he can get the technology to work to contact his base ship in orbit before the Leader decides Griffin has no value. But when Adara and her mentor discover horrendous tragedy and base villainy, he has to decide what is more important abandoning his new friends to save himself or throwing his lot in with them, possibly stranding himself on the planet forever. And then there’s the whole thing about whether the planet itself is sentient…or not.
This was an engrossing yet lightly written tale that was a breeze to read. The prose flowed and didn’t burden the reader with overly-complex plot threads or heavy-handed characterizations. The author struck just the right note with her characters and the plot was sufficiently interesting and mysterious. I’ll be looking forward to the next story in this arc. ~~ Catherine Book