Author: Dan Simmons

Subterranean Press, Eos/HarperCollins / 272 pages / May 2002

ISBN: 1931081549

There is a monster inside all of us. It takes only the right situation to bring it to life. With some luck, that situation will never coalesce and we can go on pretending to be the sweethearts or run-of-the-mill jerks everyone thinks we are. But what happens when we are forced to admit to the heinous secret we hold? And does one terrifying aspect of our personality negate any good?

Andrej Koscuisko wants nothing more than to be a doctor: a surgeon. His father wants him to carry on the family honour by enlisting with the Fleet in its glorious fight to basically control everything. Andrej manages to resist his father’s will for a time, finally giving in only with grudging obedience and quiet resistance. Because, in his position with Fleet, he will indeed be a ship’s chief medical officer — and, incidentally, Ship’s Inquisitor.

Time spent at Fleet Orientation Station Medical will be devoted to the ancient practice of torture. Enhanced by the very latest advances in equipment and pharmacology, but torture with the same aim as always: to force confessions and incriminating evidence from prisoners. How can a person dedicated to preserving life and obliterating suffering combine the two functions of the position?

With relish.

Amid the blood and screams and seared flesh of the workroom, Andrej Koscuisko will meet his personal monster. A man of honour, compassion, and empathy will find a sexual passion such as he has never known in the agony of his helpless captives.

Even as he uses his wits and the amazing skills he has developed to save the lives of others.

Facing this chilling dichotomy is the first step in a life that will tear away at his sanity and self-worth, and earn him the love and respect of the bonded slaves who will risk everything to fiercely protect the man they follow from training to the battle front to the horrors of a political prison.

Throughout the two books, the greatest miracles are pulled off by Matthews herself. Without visible footnotes and heavy exposition, she manages to delineate each character as a unique entity. Despite a large cast, there is never a question of identity. Whether speaking or acting in silence, each figure is instantly identifiable, like a friend’s voice in a long-distance call.

More miraculous is the sleight of hand Matthews manages with the character of Andrej. Time and again he enters the workroom to become something we can’t even let ourselves dream about. He emerges, blood-stained and aroused, only to crash into self-loathing. Makes sense. What is mystifying is the way his people rush to protect and heal him.

And the reader reaches out to forgive him. To pity the inquisitor.

Matthews was nominated for the Campbell award. No shock there; of the new crop of writers to crack the field in the last few years, Matthews stands apart. Capable of making us feel disgust, love, and grief, and making us prepared for redemption, she possesses a talent seldom to be found, but always to be envied.