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Carnelians (Saga of the Skolian Empire book 14) by Catherine Asaro

01/11/2011. Contributed by Kelly Jensen

Buy Carnelians (Saga of the Skolian Empire book 14) in the USA - or Buy Carnelians (Saga of the Skolian Empire book 14) in the UK

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pub: Baen. 384 page hardback. Price: GBP 16.14 (UK), $16.50 (US). ISBN: 978-1-45163-748-9.

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‘Carnelians’ is the fourteenth novel in Catherine Asaro’s popular ‘Skolian Empire Saga’. The storyline and characters populating this unique universe have evolved substantially since Catherine Asaro published the first novelette in 1994. However, the two warring empires, the Skolians and the Eubians, still have a lot more story to explore.

That being said, the ending of this novel satisfied in a way many of the entries into this series have not. Perhaps, after reading my way through a good portion of the saga, I know the characters well enough to have felt a sense of pieces finally falling into place at the end of ‘Carnelians’. The Skolians, under the rule their pharaoh, Deyha, and imperator, Kelric, and the Eubians, under the rule of the emperor and empress, Jaibriol and Tarquine, still have a battle ahead of them. Peace is not in the best interest of their respective empires. But, for the first time, we feel there is an accord of sorts between the leaders, between the individuals behind the titles. They want peace, for various reasons and have started making significant personal sacrifices to achieve it.

‘Carnelians’ also represents a culmination of several of the ideas Catherine Asaro has developed and presented throughout the course of her series, namely a dice game named Quis and the power of music.

Quis was introduced in the novel, ‘The Last Hawk’, which tells the story of Kelric’s imprisonment on the planet Coba. To call Quis a game is a bit of an understatement. It actually encompasses several functions, serving as a philosophy, means of planning strategy, predicting trends and communication. In the hands of someone who fully understands the implications of what the dice can do, it is a powerful tool. When Kelric escapes Coba, he takes his dice and his understanding of the game with him.

Kelric introduces Quis to Jaibriol in the novel, ‘The Ruby Dice’ and is, by far, my favourite novel in the ‘Skolian Empire Saga’. Kelric and Jaibriol, the respective leaders of two warring empires, find themselves alone together in a remote part of Earth. For the first time in history, the two leaders get a chance to put aside politics and talk as men. Secrets and agendas are revealed and Kelric teaches Jaibriol how to play Quis. It’s a powerful story.

The dice game takes on more meaning in ‘Carnelians’ and at the end is poised to become an important part of universal culture. I can use my imagination to explore the possibilities and though I can hope for peace, another novel exploring the next step would be more than welcome.

Music is a recurring theme throughout Asaro’s novels. It is something that is obviously close to the author’s heart. A former professional dancer, she has incorporated her love of music into the ‘Skolian Empire Saga’ by giving several characters musical careers. ‘Diamond Star’ traces the path of one such career, that of Skolian prince, Del. It is his song, Carnelians Finale, that the novel ‘Carnelians’ is named for. The prince wrote the song after being captures and tortured by an Eubian trader and the lyrics are inflammatory. In ‘Carnelians’, as the two empires begin negotiating a summit for peace, the song, which has been repressed, is released once more. Not only does it endanger the treaty, it covers another, more surreptitious act of war.

As always, ‘Carnelians’ is a dense novel and well plotted. New psions and possible heirs to both dynasties are introduced, romance blossoms and relationships are deepened. There are assassination attempts and kidnappings. Though the story is a logical reflection of events and progression of the saga, it did feel a little formulaic in places, particularly in regards to the discovery of Aliana, who is obviously a ruby heir. Once again, we are introduced to a character who appears to be beautiful, a magnificent psion and nearly faultless and she is unaware of her potential. I would like to see the author explore a character who was less perfect at some point.

To this end, I will say that I did really enjoy getting to know the empress Tarquine better in this novel. She is a character that fascinates me because, despite her physical perfection and her obvious superiority in every field, she does appear to be evolving as a person. She is not innately ‘good’ or completely evil. I look forward to following her development as (hopefully) the mother of the Eubian heir and one of the arbiters of universal peace.

All in all, ‘Carnelians’ is a solid and worthwhile entry into the saga. While it can be read as a standalone novel, the story has developed to the point where having read other Skolian novels will increase a reader’s appreciation and understanding of events. A list of the novels, in published order, can be found here:

Kelly Jensen

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