Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Timothy Zahn
(1994, Bantam Spectra)

The Conqueror's Saga, book 1

An unknown alien species destroys a Peacekeeper task force, taking one prisoner, who tries to escape while his influential father sends out a rescue mission.


-- 2nd reading (hardcover)
August 4th to 12th, 2013


I remember reading this for the first time, and being blown away by the action. Since then, I've read a lot more action, but this one is still really, really good. Now that I know the secrets to all the little surprises, it's fun to pick up on all the subtleties, especially on the alien planet. The characters were well drawn out, and it was fun to see their hunches in action, the revelations that they react to, and the effects their decisions have. The second book is what I remember being most impressed with, and I can't wait to continue the series.

Spoiler review:

This book reads just like a Star Wars novel -the author's style is instantly recognizable. There are always a few political machinations, adventures on various planets, with people doing other peoples' wishes without knowing it. And I always like the twists he puts in his novel.

The action starts right away, and is actually what had me pick up this book in the first place, as the first chapter was included in my paperback copy of The Last Command. Ruthless aliens open fire as soon as humans try to make first contact. Are they touchy or xenophobic? Do they hate humans already because of something they've heard from another race? The clue is misinterpreted by Pheylan Cavanaugh right at the beginning, as he sees the Conquerors targeting lifeboats through their radio beacons, so he shuts his off, and instead of being killed, he is taken prisoner. The answer will only be revealed later, and we should be able to figure it out after book two, so I won't reveal it here.

I think the best part was reading about Pheylan's trials at learning about the Zhirrzh, and trying to escape their custody. He discovers early on that the Zhirrzh have faster-than-light communication, but there is no way for him to know how, which is an interesting concept in itself, and is also only revealed in book two. Pheylan is introduced to Thrr-Gilag, whom I had completely forgotten about, and remember fondly, who actually has a forward-thinking mind, and who doesn't take everything the Zhirrzh leadership says at face value. Pheylan tricks them into giving him walks outside, though they are using a stun-suit on him, and he manages to sneak a few things into his room. But he can't figure out how they keep finding out about the stuff he thought he secretly stashed. He learns a bit about them as aliens, including the fact that they are using a line-of-sight remote to control the stun-suit, so he covers it in mud on one outing and tries to steal a starship. The significance of the Mrach starship landing on the Zhirrzh was lost on me the first time I read this book, but I now recognize it at a hint of what is to come.

Pheylan's father was once a member of the Parlamin, but now owns a large electronics supplier, and still has good connections. When he learns, unofficially, that Pheylan's body was not recovered from the site of the slaughter, and might have been taken prisoner, he immediately organizes a search party, though things do not go as planned.

Pheylan's sister Melinda gathers all the materials for the search party, but comes under scrutiny on Dorcas, the nearest planet to the Conqueror's attack. The search party is able to leave, but only under suspicion, and Melinda is stuck there as the Conqueror's invade. She gets a chance to autopsy one of the Zhirrzh, but is surprised by a ghost vision, something similar to what Pheylan saw as he tried to launch the Mrach ship.

Aric, Pheylan's brother, gathers together some Peacekeeper Copperheads, soldiers who can hardwire themselves into their ships, making them much more efficient in maneuvering and battle. Two turn back when they hear the search is unauthorized, and they manage to help out on Dorcas. The others continue the search, which eventually finds Pheylan as he is overtaken by Thrr-Gilag and being transported from the Mrach ship back to his cell.

The father travels to Mra to try and find out more about the Zhirrzh legends from the Mrach. He takes an interest in another alien, and is maneuvered by the Mrach into leaving with her to visit the Ychromae, who are illegally amassing a small armada to attach Mra. He learns a lot that he didn't know, and didn't realize he didn't know, about the aliens, how they resent humanity for taking on the leadership of all races, and how they are being manipulated.

Finally, he learns that humanity's big secret weapon, CIRCE, was just a fluke, that a coronal ejection coincidentally zapped an alien fleet years ago as it attempted to ambush a bunch of human ships. CIRCE has been the big threat since then, and they can only imagine the chaos if it is discovered to be a fake.

There is a lot of detail in this small book, a lot of maneuvering, and a lot of hints that things are not as they seem, especially the Zhirrzh. This supposedly bloodthirsty race keeps a prisoner and treats him well, insisting that humanity fired the first shot in the battle, when it was clearly the Zhirrzh, and that humanity is the bloodthirsty and violent race. Truly a difference of cultures, and a huge misunderstanding. The elder Cavanaugh even finds out that military intelligence has known about the Conquerors for six months. That will certainly have an impact down the road...

As usual by this author, there is a bunch of neat technology, but humans remain about the same as we are now. The "plates" are tiny computers, probably about the size of an ipad. The copperheads are an interesting idea, and I liked the way that so many other races exist, but many were at each others' throats until humanity came around to pacify them, some against their will.

The book was fast-paced, not too complicated, but held a lot of information, some of which will only become apparent in the later books. I look forward to continuing the series.


-- First reading (paperback)
April 8th to 14th, 1995


No review available.


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