Pan / 560 pages / March 2003

ISBN: 033390365X

In Neal Asher’s Polity universe there is a indispensable little invention called a “shimmer shield.” Step through the barely visible disturbance and you are in another atmosphere, another place. The first words of every Polity novel are shimmer shield for Asher’s own atmosphere, a place that might be adjacent to here, but is eons away in existence; what a relief it is to push through that invisible wall and be back there again. No author so quickly and smoothly welcomes readers into another world. Small wonder fans wait impatiently for a chance to return to the Polity, for better or worse.

Worse, in the myriad worlds that make up the Polity and those on the fringe, can be considerably worse than we soft humans can imagine. After the lethal-at-every-turn Spatterjay of The Skinner, anyone would feel safe in assuming no place could be more deadly, more hostile to human life… Ah! But we all would be sadly wrong. Of course, we had never even heard of Masada, then, so how could we imagine anything more chilling? Little did we know Asher was just biding his time until he was ready to take us to this hell-hole, where people cannot even live on the surface without oxygen or breathers.

Hooders, heroynes, mud snakes, even gabbleducks (just possibly might favourite bit of xenobiology of all time) are nothing when compare to the death grip the Brotherhood has on the people of the planet. Like most theocracies, life is good for the few who grab power and can maintain their grip and the rest are good for cheap labour. If a citizen isn’t good for doing the dirty work, there is a fast and easy way to take care of that and have one less person using up breathing space. Proctors enforce the most capricious rule system and live to make others suffer. That’s life outside The Line of Polity.

Into this disaster of a situation comes so much more than the planet is ready to handle. Dragon, for one, is still alive and determined to get its personal mission accomplished; the incredibly powerful being has never let a minor consideration like other lives interfere. Where Dragon goes Earth Central Security Agent Ian Cormac is to be expected any second. His battle with Dragon is going to be even more deadly this time, because another old adversary is on his way. And everyone is set to arrive smack in the middle of a revolution.

If anyone survives, it won’t be for lack of chances to die horribly.

All this action is not enough for Asher. The riveting story is interwoven with a sly and revealing snippet at the start of each chapter that sometimes seems to be the only consistent truth in The Line of Polity. It would be diminishing the effect to call it a plot device, but it’s a damned clever one.

Does that surprise anyone, though? There’s something on the other side of that shimmer shield we can’t wait to get to, and we haven’t been disappointed yet. Now, comes the intolerable wait until the next Asher masterwork…