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    Review of HOUSE OF REEDS by Thomas Harlan (see his website)


    TOR, February 2004

    In a universe where the Aztec rather than Europeans prevailed, the Aztec-dominated Empire reaches across the galaxy. On one ancient world, the priests of the Aztec plot a 'flower war.' The manufactured war will give soldiers a chance to earn glory, exercise their weapons, and provide the blood sacrifices their gods require. Of course, the war will also cause problems for anyone who gets caught in its midst--including renegade Captain Mitsuhara Hadeishi, archeologist Gretchen Anderssen, or Aztec prince Texozomoc.

    To provoke the war, Aztec priests pretend to be nordic opponents of the Aztec empire, sharing military equipment with the native population of Jagan. But not even the priests recognize the dangers they're provoking--dangers that include hidden weapons from millions of years of civilization (many made unusable by the lack of fuels and metals in a world where mines where exhausted thousands of years earlier but suddenly useful with the Empire's reintroduction of lubricants, power supplies, and metal), real opponents of the Aztec rule, and even possibly remnants of ancient civilizations with no love for the upstart Aztec Empire.

    Author Thomas Harlan (see more reviews of novels by Harlan) has smoothed out the often-clunky writing of some of his earlier books and offers some fun and fascinating world-building. What if the Japanese and Aztec empires had been able to strike first? With Japanese metal technology and their shared martial traditions, the combination would have been daunting. Adding to that a mysterious ancient civilization and hunt for its artifacts and you have a powerful basis for story-telling. Harlan adds some nice battle sequences and considerable blood-letting to keep the pages turning.

    HOUSE OF REEDS is nicely done, even to its twist at the end. It did, however, fall a bit short of my hopes when it came to the characters. I didn't really get a good understanding of what Gretchen was up to, or why we should care about her successes or failures. In the difficult balance between developing characters and putting them in danger, Harlan chose action--perhaps a bit too often.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 5/14/04

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