With Jeff off-world, his wife, Sukara is left to tend to their daughters. The tycoon, Chandrasakar, is paying for the medical care, but that doesn't stop killers from going after Sukara, trying to find out what she knows about her husband's mission. On the whole, I found this plot line the weak point in the story. In Xenopath, one of my favorite parts of the book was the development of the relationship between Jeff and Su. With them separated for so much of this novel, a continuation along those lines is impossible. And while I understand the need to avoid retreading familiar ground, I couldn't help but feel that this thread acted more as filler than anything else. The killers chasing Su were motivated by forces tangential to the central players and added little, if anything, to the story. Besides, as soon as they entered the scene, they are constantly referred to as "bastards," virtually exclusive of any other descriptor. It's not that I object to that particular curse, mind you, but it was so out of character with the rest of the narration as to feel jarring.
As in Xenopath, Jeff heads to an alien planet and encounters a species new to humans. Unlike the previous trip, this current voyage is much better executed as a story. The plot twists, driven largely by political machinations coming from about half a dozen different groups, are interesting, exciting, and (for the most part) less predictable than the last book. Part of the improvement, I think, comes from the development of Parveen Das, another telepath on the trip, whose loyalties are muddied by her personal feelings and a fair bit of self-delusion. Her interactions with Vaughn create a lot of tension and confusion in both characters, and the resolution is all the more interesting as a result.
The aliens found on this far away world have more substance about them as well. Indeed, all the sci-fi aspects are vastly improved. The planet is covered in an ever-changing fungal landscape which is much more complicated than it first appears. On the initial read, I was bowled over. I mean, who thinks of covering a planet in mushrooms? But, that's why I love sci-fi. The handling of the physical world as well as the characters' journey through it had something of a Tolkienian feel which, if intentional, was more homage than plagiarism. Likewise, some of the alien technology smacked of Stargate, but with it's own attributes. As a reader, I don't mind finding traces of other stories in my sci-fi/fantasy novels, as long as they are carefully managed. Brown walks that line throughout this book and, on the whole, does it well.