Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Tor (2 Sep 2005)
Firstly, a note. It took me ages to get into this book - I started it, read a few pages, put it on one side, was even carrying it around when we ended having dinner with the author (Hi, gaspode_girl), and in all that time, I'd managed about two chapters. Such a scrappy effort doesn't help appreciation, not at all. And then, I finally got into it, and it suddenly rushed by.
Well, it did have a very nice cover quote from David Gemmell, so I shouldn't have been surprised.
Right, onto the content. This, the first volume of a trilogy, is at first sight a Generic Fantasy Setup (TM and (c)): theocracy, low tech society, Swarm riders, etc.. Hold on, 'Swarm' riders? Ah, yes. You've heard of the Hive Mind? This is the Hive Body - a swarm of insects joining to become a single, huge, ridable creature. And it's a very specialised corps of crack inquisitors that get to ride these rare creatures.
(Shades of Pern? Not really - these are not wish-fulfilment wingéd horses, not at all.)
At the same time, in an almost totally divorced story, we have a rebel God, somewhat like Pluto ruling his underworld, trying to gain advantage within his pantheon.
And thirdly, it appears that the Swarms have started to lay eggs - something that shouldn't happen with a sexless, artificial creature. Naturally the theocrats don't like this, don't believe this, and attempt both to find out what's really going on, and also to quash any heretical murmurings among the common people. It doesn't help that the Swarms now seem to be having occasional hot flushes, breaking up in mid air to the predictable detriment of any current rider.
Where Miller does better than the generic fantasy is in making almost all of the characters, both 'good' and 'evil', sympathetic or repellent, believable. There are no one-dimensional cut-outs here, and just being 'on the right side' is no guarantee of survival, either. At times, survival to the end of this first volume seems a rare privilege, something which naturally increases the tension. In places, certain fantasy tropes (misunderstood apparent betrayal, etc. ) seem about to poke through, but then you find that the plot is not going quite where you expected.
Then near the end, the two parts - mortal and immortal - collide, and things accelerate. Volume 2 of this trilogy should fairly sizzle.