There's a sentient, autonomous AI running around the computers that run (essentially) the State and Defense Department for the United Stellar Alliance. It's trying to learn how to act more like humans while carrying out its duties -- both official and unofficial. The unofficial duties include caring for (and learning from) the descendant of its creator -- someone who wouldn't be allowed access to the AI by anyone other the AI. There are some officers in the Intelligence wings of the Fleet who think that there might be something going on with the AI running FALCON, and set out to find it (if such is a thing).
Meanwhile, long-term stresses and problems within the United Stellar Alliance are coming to a head and the planets that make up the alliance are on the verge of declaring war on each other. The moves that the various entities make -- and the politics behind the moves -- fed into my political and historical interests (and other readers will resonate with them, too, I expect).
But here's the best part -- as interesting as all these things are -- it's not the main story. The main story involves an alien race, the Raknii. The Raknii are a warrior/hunter society, one who conquers pretty much everything they encounter -- without mercy, without pity, without consideration for anything other than victory. But many of the leaders of this race are questioning this -- and fear that the culture has gone astray. About this time, they discover a new race in the galaxy -- one that will prove to be the ultimate test for the Raknii, which may help their culture get back on track. That race, of course, is humanity.
Each storyline worked for me in just the right way -- the Civil War story was good, the parallels to the US Civil War were maybe overplayed, but they were used well enough that I'm not going to complain too loudly. The story of the AI learning about human cultures was nothing but fun -- ditto for the efforts of Fleet Intelligence to get to the bottom of things. All this going on with a large-scale alien invasion looming unbeknownst to any human was a great touch -- any of these would keep me reading, mixing them the way that Gibson did was icing on the cake.
The cast of characters in this is so extensive that I can't really comment on them all -- let's just say that I liked just about ever character -- no matte how they threaten the fate of humanity. About the only people I didn't like were those from the Consortium (a group of businessmen that have more of an impact on the USA's government than anyone appreciates) -- and there's just nothing redeemable about them (or frightfully interesting outside of their role as antagonists).
Michaels writes with heart, humor, hope and a pretty good attention to detail. There are plenty of infodumps throughout -- especially concerning the Raknii, but also getting the reader brought up to speed with humanity's politics/technology -- but these are almost always woven in well with character moments and the over all narrative. I just had a blast reading this.
This is the first entry of a trilogy, and is one of those that doesn't come to any real resolution as such. It's more of a pause in the action before jumping into the next volume. I'm not crazy about those kind of books, but I get the thinking -- the point is to move on to the next two books. Besides, I enjoyed this enough that all I want to do is move on, I can live without that temporary resolution. I'm giving this a 3-Star Rating, but do so in the expectation that the following entries will be ranked higher.
<i><b>Disclaimer:</b> I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post -- thanks Mr. Michaels.</i>