Primary Inversion – Catherine Asaro

$AltTextA welcome addition to Babes with Blasters.

Primary Inversion  – Catherine Asaro.

Stars: Three and a half of five.
Summary: Jagernaut fighter pilot Sauscony (Soz) Valdoria is the lead character, in command of a squadron of four Jagernaut pilots: neurologically enhanced empaths who have been bio-engineered as weapons.  Soz is also an Imperial Heir of the Skolian Empire and may someday become its military commander.  Skolian Jagernauts are pitted against the legions of the Trader empire, in particular its Aristo ruling class, a race that derives pleasure from the amplified pain and anguish of empaths, especially Jagernauts. 
The book is divided into three sections.  In the first section, Soz and her squadron are taking shore leave on a planet that has remained neutral in the hostilities between the warring empires. It is there that Soz meets an Aristo named Jaibriol, who it turns out is heir to the Trader empire. Jaibriol is strangely interesting to Soz, despite her prior torture at the hands of an Aristo.  Later, Soz and her Jagernaut squadron launch a desperate mission to save a planet from annihilation by the Trader empire. 
In the second section, Soz is sent for rest and recuperation on a planet, emotionally drained and suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Her condition continues to deteriorate.  In the third section, Soz is recalled by her brother the Imperator, to join him on the Headquarters planet.  (based on content from wikipedia, but heavily revised for brevity and to omit major spoilers). 
Provenance: FREE download from Baen Online Free Library.

Primary Inversion was Catherine Asaro’s first novel, published in 1995. As such, it is an impressive debut with few significant stumbles and strong signs of promise.  However, I may have been reading a thoroughly revised 2008 edition (according to wikipedia).  Whatever its specific pedigree, it is a good book.

The pace moves things along at a brisk clip, and the key SF elements – FTL inversion drives and Jagernaut enhancements – are worked in as meaningful plot elements by the end of the story.  The main character Sauscony (Soz) is convincingly described and engaging, and secondary characters are reasonably well drawn too. The political backdrop of warring empires – provides depth and a sense of history.

Soz herself was my particular favorite in this book, especially in the second and third sections, when she is struggling with PTSD and then adventuring.  In the first section, the narrative strains under a very heavy load of gadgetry exposition (FTL, Jagernauts, the ethnic roots of the empires), and Soz’s relationship with her fiance is dropped in like a brick.

The three-section structure of the book worked unexpectedly well for me.  Partly, because I was only semi-whelmed by the first section: I was happy to move on to a more character-centered narrative with less exposition.

In general, Primary Inversion really has earned its three and a half stars. It is good, and it’s a promising sign that later novels by Asaro will be (will have been?) very good.  It has many strong points that outweigh its weaknesses.

Ware Spoilers below


  • In starting off during R&R, we meet Soz’s squad, but some lumps of exposition are wince-worthy.  I just took a deep breath and plowed through.  I’ve hit more awkward sections elsewhere – for example I skipped chunks of Hammered.
  • Soz’s agreement to marry Rex, a member of her squadron, was too unsubstantiated for my taste. It reminded me strongly of Heris’ romance with Petris, in Hunting Party and Sporting Chance. Military comrades with history predating the books, and we’re told that they now love each other.
  • Rex might as well have been wearing ‘red-shirt’ for the defense of that planet threatened by the Aristos.  Not only has he just gotten engaged, but he’s also a ‘short-timer’!  No wonder he gets so badly injured, it’s practically a law of physics and cliches.
  • Given that Soz is newly engaged, I was a little skeptical about the buzz of attraction she feels for Jaibriol in section 1.  I suppose she has enough stress and guilt from combat, but wouldn’t she be feeling a little guilty?
  • Not sure Soz (or her parents) really seem plausible as members of an imperial family.  If they’re so hostile with the Aristos, would they really be this anonymous?


  • Civilians’ responses to the  Jagernaut combat uniforms – black leather – this could have felt like a cliche but I think it worked well throughout the book.
  • The rum binge – Soz scratching her head with the Jumbler  was well done.  The point of view was maintained with Soz, but you could see that the bystanders were very nervous.
  • Loved the description of Kurj’s gold-metallic hair, skin, and inner eyelids.
  • Soz’s father and mother appear late in the story, but their warmth and affection are very convincing.


Other links related to Primary Inversion  (added by me, not generated)

Did I overlook your review? Let me know in a comment, and I will add the link here.

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  1. #1 by chimeradave on June 14, 2011 - 8:26 pm

    Our thoughts about the book were very similar. Here’s my review:

  2. #2 by Joachim Boaz on June 21, 2011 - 1:09 pm

    Top-notch review!

    You have a wonderful blog — because I tend to review ONLY pre-1980 sci-fi I enjoy reading up on the newer works (and especially female authors). Thanks!

  1. Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro « SF Mistressworks

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