I found this a difficult book to read because it is so very well written. That's not a contradiction, by the way. Any book about alien contact where I spend the first third of it trying *NOT* to grind my teeth into powder over Jao callousness and Jao brutality has definitely involved me in the story.
For the Jao have conquered Earth, reducing its population to sullen subservience, destroyed cities for the merest trace of resistance, and even wiped out Mount Everest to prove that they are not to be defied. The areas which resisted most strongly have been hammered into poverty and want, and there are places where no one who collaborates with the Jao dares walk unarmed or alone.
But the Jao are not the monolithic Beast of the Apocalypse they seem to be, for one faction, known only as the Bond, has apparently engineered a situation they hope will resolve the mess, and so the tale begins, as a new Subcommandant arrives on earth, fresh from the equivalent of Annapolis...
There is more to this book than the parts of the story which aroused my wrath, for these aliens are truly *alien*, and that provides the tale with its richness. John Campbell defined alien as "what thinks as well as a human, but differently" and the Jao are indeed different. From those differences arise the conflict, for how do beings who are engineered, rather than products of evolution, proud of their rationality, and involved in a war for survival against others whose alienness is so bizarre that meaningful contact with them is impossible, deal with the inconsistent, irrational, maddening and quarrelsome humans?
For that matter, can, or will the Jao succeed in fixing the horribly botched first contact and conquest of the humans? Without breaking the very things that might make humans valuable partners in their ultimate quest for survival? And, if they can do so, how can they achive it without destroying their own species' unity, upon which the survival of all, Jao and human, must ultimately depend?
All of the above issues and more come into play in this book and by the time the story ended, I found myself actually trying to think like a Jao, and see the universe from their perspective. Quite a change, I must say, from my "kill them all" attitude generated by the early part of the story. That change is a high compliment to the skill with which the story was unfolded before me.
Both K. D. Wentworth ("Black/On/Black", "Stars/Over/Stars", "Imperium Game") and Eric Flint [website]BR>have shown themselves writers of the highest caliber, and this book, written by them as a team, is a credit to them both. I am grateful the book was so difficult and hence, so wonderful.
Thank you, Kathy and Eric.