I’ve read more than a few “franchise” books, by which I mean stories where an author writes a story within an existing universe, such as Diane Duane’s Spider-man books (very good) or Warhammer 40K stories. I always wonder how much of a help or hinderance the existing framework is for the authors; after all, it probably does some of the creative heavy lifting, but it constrains the possible stories by having someone looking over your shoulder more than usual.
Timothy Zahn is likely best known for his Thrawn trilogy set in the Star Wars universe. I rather enjoyed them, and based on the strength of those books I picked up this book, cautiously hopeful as I hadn’t read any of his other stories, and curious to see how he would set about creating a brand-new world. I can happily say that he did not disappoint.
The story opens in New York City, with a couple walking home from a play. Roger and Caroline Whittier are people with deep personal issues, constantly at odds due to their different personalities and approaches to everything: he is more analytical and avoids confrontation, she more emotional and willing to speak up for the underdog. This tense situation is broken up by a sudden intrusion of an armed man who hustles them into an alley, and makes an odd request: that they take with them a young girl named Melantha who is lying unconscious on the ground. Out of compassion, the Whittiers’ agree, and thusly are drawn into an ancient conflict.
As the title states, the two parts of the trouble are groups known as the Greens and Grays. Both have strange and advanced technology and a bitter hatred of each other, with few qualms about using them in public, or against outsiders to their conflict. unfortunately, the police are soon drawn into the “secret war”, bringing more attention to their problems. Melantha is important to both sides, and they will stop at nothing to secure her from the Whittiers.’
Roger & Caroline, as mentioned, are involved with their own disintegrating relationship, and the introduction of a strange young girl at first puts a heavy strain on their lives. However, her presence and the pressure from both sides draws them to defend her and to solve a war.
There are a lot of characters in this story, and they are all given some care. Interestingly, we never see the action or from the POV of either a Green or Gray, only the humans. However, the different culture and approach of each side is well explained, as is their types of technology and gifts. The Green, as their name suggests, are more connected to nature, while the Gray are more acclimated to an urban environment.
Zahn does an excellent job in fleshing out his protagonists and their inner voices. In the beginning the frustrations of Roger and Caroline towards each other are distinctly uncomfortable and made the story slightly difficult to read. As it went on I was happy to see that they were growing closer, making their interactions more pleasant, and in fact I looked forward to seeing how the next twist or obstacle would bring them closer together.
All in all it was an excellent story and certainly encouraged me to seek out other books by Zahn.