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The Ruby Dice by Catherine Asaro
Cover Artist: Alan Pollack
Review by Carolyn Frank
Baen Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781416591580
Date: 31 March 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Kelric, the Skolian Imperator, has a secret past he spent 18 years on a restricted planet, Coba. Coba's culture is grounded on the game of Quis, played with a set of variously colored dice. Having fought his way back from imprisonment to take the role of military commander in chief of the Skolian empire, he brought back a single token from Coba, a gift from his wife there, a pouch containing a set of Ruby Dice.

For the past half millennium, the Skolians and the Eubian Concord have been at war. The Skolian dynasty leads their galaxy spanning empire, connecting and communicating telepathically through a medium named Kyle space. Only human Keys of super-high telepathic and empathic capabilities can keep this communications web going, and all of those in existence are members of this family. A failed attempt to create other such persons in the lab resulted instead in the creation of a group of humans who only get pleasure out of the pain of empaths, the Aristos. They formed the Eubian Concord and have since been fighting to conquer the Skolians in order to take control of Kyle space and to be able to enslave the empaths.

Jalbriol Qox, ruler of the Eubian Concord, also has a secret past he is the son of the former Skolian Imperator, Kelric's older sister. Ten years ago as a teenager he was accepted as ruler with the death of his father, but he is not a true Aristo, only playing the part. Jalbriol is an empath, as strong as his mother, but with no training on how to maintain mental shields in a world filled with Aristos looking for empaths from whom to take their pleasure. But Jalbriol has an overwhelming goal; in tribute to his parents who had fled from each of their empires to find their love together, he wants to bring peace between these two passionate enemies.

In this alternative space-time framework, Earth exists as the heart of a third smaller empire, only appearing relatively lately on the intergalactic scene. Regarded as neutral territory, this Earth is a barely unchanged version of our world today, but provides a place where Kelric and Jalbriol can interact outside of their official positions and roles.

If this is your introduction to the Skolian universe, sufficient background is provided to keep the story understandable. If you have read prior books in this Skolian empire series, this book will elaborate and answer many formerly loose ends. Regardless, if you like space operas with multi-dimensional heroes and villains, with many more political than physical battles, and with mysteries that get satisfactorily resolved, this book should captivate you.

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