This book is somewhere in the middle of Asaro's great big Skolian Empire series.It's a direct sequel to Schism, which I barely remember; other than that, it probably doesn't matter that much what order you read the books in.
I devoured the first few of these books with great pleasure, but the last couple I'd read had convinced me that the series had jumped the shark so thoroughly that I let this one languish on the shelf for quite a long time. That was a mistake; this one was good. A bit too complex and tangled a plot, but the weird stuff on the border between science and metaphysics was actually interesting again, and I found the story entertaining as it whizzed by, and I cared a bit about the characters. But I'm having an awful lot of trouble actually remembering the details. 8 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- SPOILERS ****
Even though I only finished it last weekend, I don't remember it too well. Too much goes whizzing by. But I'll try to remember some of it, broken down by characters rather than by the order presented.
We follow Soz through her unprecedented feat of graduating from Dieshan Military Academy (Jagernaut training) in only two years, despite the fact that she spends most of her time on punishment duty. She's on a special assignment shakedown cruise aboard a ship bigger than most people's space stations when the Traders attack the Kyle web, and even though she's not part of the Dyad, she manages to use her mental powers to hold things together. She manages to live through it, help her ship win its secondary battle (and save the most populated world in the Empire) at the cost of possibly causing more casualties on the other front, graduates from DMA and becomes a Jagernaut, and actually acknowledge that her boyfriend is her boyfriend.
Eldrin steals a syringe from his wife (Dehya the Ruby Pharaoh) and gets himself addicted to phorine, an extremely dangerous drug that only works on empaths. Because he's too proud to admit it, he almost kills himself -- when the war breaks out he is in withdrawal and gets herded into an evacuee transport with no one knowing who he is. He uses his empath powers to help one of the beleagered doctors with some of his patients, which apparently helps him find the will to live through the withdrawal. The common folks he helped are shocked to find out who he was.
Eldrinson manages to accept that Althor was gay and that Soz ran away to join the army. In the crisis when the Kyle web is collapsing, he is drafted into joining the Dyad (currently Dehya and Kurj) even though it's expected that it will kill one of them, but despite being a backwoods barbarian, he turns out to have an amazing affinity for the Web, and becomes the Web Key, the third in the Triad. He reboots the Kyle web just in time to save both Soz (who, as we noted above, was just holding off the total collapse) and the whole Empire, as Skolia is able to respond coherently just in time to stop the invasion threat.
Roca got captured right about the time the hostilities started. Her node made a backup of her brain before it turned her off to avoid the torture. Then it woke her up just long enough for all the other Kyle operators to miraculously teleport her out of Trader clutches to the Blue Dales. She suffered serious brain damage, but her node manages to restore her mind from the backup.
Shannon, previously a minor character, joins the Blue Dale Archers, a mysterious group of Lyshrioli natives who can enter Kyle space through shamanistic rituals. He is instrumental in rescuing Roca. He marries Varielle, his Blue Dale girlfriend.
Althor, who was killed in Schism, turns out to have only been mostly dead; his node manages to restore him from backup much as Roca's did. It's revealed that all of the latest-generation nodes probably have this capability.