Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Ruby Dice; Catherine Asaro

The Ruby Dice was published in 2008 by Baen, written by Catherine Asaro. It is the second novel in what I consider a duology. The first novel is The Moon's Shadow, reviewed here. These novels are set in Asaro's Skolian Empire world and are basically straight science fiction. If you are a romance reader looking to branch out into others of Asaro's worlds be aware that these novels are very different from her novels published by Luna. Honestly, I think one of the biggest problems SFF has is awful covers! They are so terrible. It can be very off putting. Her stories grab my attention and don't let go, but the covers..jeez. :(

Primarily The Ruby Dice is the story of how Kelricson Valdoria Skolia and Jaibriol Qox manage to drag their respective empires to the peace table. Unknown to Kelric, he and Jai are uncle and nephew, which adds a unique flavor to the storyline. Secondarily the story details the political and personal struggles each ruler has while trying to bring the desired treaty to fruition. This episode takes place nine years after the events in The Moon's Shadow. If you prefer to read these stories in internal chronological story order, the list is here.

It's hard to discuss this novel without including spoilers of the previous one, but I'll try. Kelric was thought dead, killed in action basically, for eighteen years until Jai set him free from the Eubians (previous novel). Ms. Asaro alternates between telling some of Kelric's back story with current political realities,linking them both to his desire for peace. Meantime, Jai has his own motivations for pushing for peace, albeit very carefully. Jai discovers that perhaps he has other, more personal motivations for wanting peace.

The Ruby Dice presents peace making between large governments as achievable via personal relationships between the two rulers. A hoped for solution, perhaps, but unrealistic as far as I'm concerned. I was reminded of the conferences and photo ops over the Cold War years: pretty to look at, nice to read about but they don't really achieve much. Peace isn't unwanted, mind you, but isn't achievable in the manner the author wishes the reader to believe. Other political machinations within each respective group seem to be believeable, the complexity of motivation, the unwieldy bureaucracy, the seeming inbred opposition for opposition's sake, etc.

Leaving that aside, I liked watching Jai and his wife interact, learning how they've built a relationship, how they work together towards goals Jai has for the Empire. Jai seems to spend most of his time suspecting his wife's motivations and goals. He's more of an idealist, while she's more capitalistic and pragmatic. He doesn't appear to recognize that someone behind the scene sometimes has to set the stage for future victories. He's become cynical and more aware that the personal price he will pay is much higher than he originally thought. Inevitable changes for one in his position. Meantime some of her actions proved, to me at least, that she deeply cares for him aside from his position and her subsequent power, although her ability to compartmentalize her roles often keeps Jai off balance. Then too, Eubian culture isn't his native culture and some of their behaviors probably continue to keep him off kilter.

Kelric's family story is unique and interesting and is central to the Skolians' efforts at peacemaking, but is very hard to talk about here without revealing major plot point. His story is also found in the book The Last Hawk. I'm very hopeful that Ms. Asaro will write books about the newest members of Kelric's already large family.

One of the most intriguing elements of The Ruby Dice are the dice themselves. Quis is a dice game played with multiple players using multiple dice. It's kind of a storytelling three dimensional chess game, click here for wiki article explaining chess variants. Kelric has a set and uses them to think through some of the problems presented to him. Quis is an essential element on the planet where Kelric was hidden. I like the concept of a culture that both forms and was formed by a game.

An enjoyable and satisfying episode in the Eubian-Skolian saga, all in all. The familial backstory and the to-ing and fro-ing of more intimate relationships was most interesting to me. Jai and his wife and their situation, personally and politically fascinate me no end & I'm hoping to see glimpses of them in the future.

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