City of Pearl | Vegans on the War Path

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I discovered Karen Traviss’ City of Pearl primarily by browsing user reviews in Amazon. This remains a great way of finding suitable reading material. Traviss is better known for her Star Wars books but her first venture into a realm of her own making had me hooked from the word go. City of Pearl is the first book in a 6 part series of epic scale and if you like first contact stories, you may want to take a look at this one.

Shan Frankland is a hardened officer in Environmental Hazard Enforcement. In a world where resources are dwindling and regulation has expanded even to crop seeds, Shan’s job is not an easy one. On her last mission before retirement she receives a visit from the Federal European Union president, Eugenie Perault. Perault wants to recruit her for a job on the planet of Cavanaugh’s star where there is a small colony of humans. Interestingly we don’t find out what the mission is straight away and neither does Shan. Because the mission is so sensitive she is given a suppressed briefing and based on the information she receives during this makes a decision to take on the job, but only “remembers” the content of the briefing in bits and pieces when she arrives at Cavanaugh’s Star. I liked this as a plot element as it kept me guessing and at the edge of my seat throughout the book.

Shan is essentially flying blind when she is thrust into a situation with 3 alien species, a set of human colonists and a very volatile situation which isn’t made any easier by the scientists accompanying her on her mission. Although this story has a host of exciting plot elements and twists, the real marvel is Traviss’ exquisite characters. Shan Frankland’s unyielding personality jumps out of the pages and her budding friendship with Aras, the Wess’har caretaker on the planet played on my compassion for the universe’s misfits.

The factions in the book are vividly portrayed and through them many issues that face us today are raised. From the expansionist Isenj to the aquatic Bezeri the social and economic differences are well thought out and an essential part of what makes this story great. The Wess’har hardline vegan stance is very compelling and to be honest, the reason I tried being a vegetarian. Traviss’ skills as a world builder are unsurpassed and her arguments for each of the cultures she created are very convincing. I’m tempted to put this series on the same pedestal as Frank Herbert’s Dune for sheer scale and detail. It’s not often one encounters such a startlingly complete universe and the wonderful opportunity for exploration that accompanies it.

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