Reviewed by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Romance Guild Review Team
How to even begin? Beryll and Osiris are at it again, expanding their vision of the Virasana Empire and its complicated, weird, interplanetary universe. This is the start of a new series, featuring a young scholar, part of a deeply secret clan of information gatherers known as the Circle of Thales on the planet Floor (rhymes with poor). Seriously, this clan of multi-generational tattooed scholars is so secret, even the author never mentions their name, it seems, because nobody really knows they exist.
Rene Laurent, our meek hero #1, gathers, exchanges, and trades in information for the Circle, hidden deep beneath the surface of Floor. One day, as he is about to be mugged by hoodlums working for a competitor of one of his information sources, Rene is rescued by hero #2, none other than a Belligra priest named Riccardo. Almost inadvertently, Rene and Riccardo become a kind of urban Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, protecting the weak and poor from the unscrupulous and greedy (which is basically everybody on Floor). Having only had a narrow social circle all his life, Rene finds himself with a friend outside his experience. He likes it, just as much as he finds he likes action rather than a life devoted to reading.
I don’t know if the Brackhauses intentionally created a priestly sect whose name seems to be a play on the Spanish words “dangerous” and “warlike,” (peligroso and bellicoso), but it just made me smile
Brother Riccardo is a sort of cross between a crusading Knight Templar and RoboCop. He’s also like Gronk in the animated film The Emperor’s New Groove, only much smarter. And that’s the thing: Riccardo is beautiful and heroic, but also goofy, innocent and genuinely devout in his mission to protect the innocent. He is naïve, as Rene soon learns, but he is smart and adaptable. Rene himself is a powerful psion and a healer, but also a brainiac in the manner of the “mentats” of the Dune books. He is a human information storage vessel.
Indeed, this book (and the whole Virasana empire series) is kind of a mad mix of Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, and Blade Runner (which, by the way, I hated totally). It is rich and visual and layered (not unlike Floor itself). As the authors warn us, Virasana is not a world like ours—even though it seems to have evolved from ours after thousands of years. There are shopping malls and slavery; movie theaters and noble families who are literally above the law. This is a world in which a corporate skyscraper can be breached by a lone knight carrying a sword because he is on a Church mission and therefore cannot be challenged. It is bizarre and fascinating and often darkly funny.
The whole world might in fact be a not-so-thinly-veiled metaphor for the world in which we live now—gross inequities and injustice, rich people who care nothing for lives outside their vision, corporate greed and untrammeled pollution creating literal monsters that lurk in the corners we try not to see. The metaphoric aspect of this book is not heavy-handed, but it is always there, just off to the side, making us wince as much as it makes us laugh.
Rene and Riccardo take on a quest to root out and neutralize a dangerous biological mutagen before it causes global havoc on Floor. Along the way, Rene comes to admire this priestly warrior, and Riccardo comes to respect the compassion and wisdom of his scholarly sidekick. They save each other’s lives, and they become friends.
I, personally, would say that they fall in love; but the authors assert up front that this is a non-romance book. However, I know love when I see it. They may not know it yet, but Rene loves Riccardo and that feeling is returned. Will it go anywhere, or do the authors need to have part of their literary universe a safe space for those who tremble at the idea of two men in love? I can’t say, but I can hope. I will keep reading because this world makes me happy and keeps me thinking.
In this time of global pandemic, there’s not much more I can ask for.