Crystal Rain, Tobias S. Buckell
I was maybe expecting too much from this book, due to the name Tobias Buckell has developed for himself with his strong online presence, and numerous kudos and name drops given him by other authors in the blogosphere.
The premise of his first novel is that a small group of refugee humans have stranded themselves on an isolated world to avoid the attention of more powerful spacefaring species. Unfortunately, a few dozen of the antagonistic aliens managed to end up on the planet with them when the worm-holes that linked it to the rest of the galaxy were destroyed. Two different alien species each have more or less control over a different human community. The Teotl rule a nation called the Azteca with an iron fist, or rather with bloody talons. The Loa, on the other hand, have a much more complex relationship with the Caribbean-islander descended Nanagadans in their orbit.
The choice of non-European background for the human settler groups adds flavor to the story, but doesn’t really seem to do much to drive the plot. The main actors in the conflict are not Nanagadans, but outsiders, space men with mysterious pasts. The Nanagadan prime minister, Diana, is the most sympathetic character, and it might have strengthened the story for her to have gotten a stronger role in solving the crisis. The Nanagadan military commander, Haidan, and an Azteca spy, Oaxytl, are also intersesting characters, but again don’t really have enough influence on events to make the story their own.
On the other hand, the writing is solid, the characters are well-developed, and the story keeps moving at all times. Even with a few quibbles about how much of the story is given over to its Caribbean characters, the book is still a solid, enjoyable, and readable adventure novel with a novel cultural twist.