British author Karen Traviss' debut novel City of Pearl is the first entry in a fast-moving science fiction trilogy. In the intriguing near-future world that Traviss creates, Shan Frankland is a 23rd-century English beat cop who has moved up the police force to lead an Environmental Hazard group. Just before she retires she is asked to go on a mission to the second planet of Cavanagh's Star (CS2), which is 75 light-years from home. Frankland takes the mission, but she doesn't know why. She is given a "Suppressed Briefing" so that her orders will only come to mind when she is in an appropriate situation. Traviss builds her societies and characters slowly. Frankland is very tough and very proud of it. She has scars from the police front line and she prefers open arguments or fights to unspoken concerns. She meets her match in Aras, a wess'har, warrior and environmental defender, blessed (or cursed) by a parasite with the ability to live forever. The wess'har are extreme environmentalists and will do anything to maintain biodiversity and balance. They don't understand that humans eat other "people" (animals) and they are determined to protect the sea-going inhabitants of CS2, the Bezer'ej.

A third alien race, the isenj, is in some ways the most human of the three. Having overpopulated their own planet, they want to make CS2 accessible to their people. This led to war 500 years before, and if the humans are not careful, they might find themselves caught up in a new struggle. City of Pearl is a strong first installment and marks the debut of a writer to watch. Traviss takes what could have been a rote collection of characters (marines, cops, religious extremists) and slowly adds depth, complexity and color, so that by the end, even Frankland has a new appreciation for the shades between black and white. Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of The Year's Best Science Fantasy ∧ Horror, to be published this summer by St. Martin's.

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