I initially picked up this book because of the authors. Linda Evans and David Weber have become favorites of mine, especially after their work with one of my all-time favorites, the Bolo series. Although I haven't yet read much outside of the Dinochrome Brigade with Evans I plan to read more of her work thanks to Baen's library of e-books, and of course Weber's Honor Harrington series has become another favorite series of mine. So I was rather excited to read another team-up work from these two excellent science-fiction authors. Especially because of the pretty awesome premise. Essentially there is a series of parallel earths, all identical, but only a handful are inhabited. One, known as Arcana, is home to magic-wielding wizards, kings, unicorns, and dragons. Another known as Sharona is home to people with telepathic powers and a technological level similar to our own in the early 1900's. The Sharonans are described by some people as steampunk, but I'm not so sure about that particular nomenclature as none of their technology seems to have the wonder and sheer improbability of what I define as steampunk, but I may just be splitting hairs. Point is dragons and wizards are getting pitted against steam trains and machine guns, what's not to love?
More specifically over the years both Arcana and Sharona have explored what they call chains of universes, linked by portals, and have colonized quite a few. Eventually both sides have discovered what's referred to as Hell's Gate, a universe containing a junction of portals, permitting access all across the multiverse, and through a miscommunication have come to blows over Hell's Gate. The Sharonans at the start are currently in command of the portal nexus, but the Arcanans have agreed to diplomatic talks to try and prevent further bloodshed. Unfortunately there are many, many plots in motion which mean warfare is going to be inevitable, but that's what we signed up for, isn't it?
I will say that I personally saw a bit of difference between the two sides, although this has been described as a gray-on-gray morality setting. I will admit that there are bad guys who are Sharonans and good guys who are Arcanans, but it seems to be that the majority of Arcanans aren't very good people, while the majority of Sharonans are rather noble. Maybe it's better articulated in the first book, I simply don't know. As for their powers, I personally didn't see much of a difference to be honest. The Arcanans have Gifts while the Sharonans have Talents, the difference being that Talents are more common but less powerful than Gifts. Granted Talents seem to be entirely mental abilities while Gifts let you work standard fantasy magic, but they both seem to just...exist. Although when David starts going into a stream of technobabble I tend to just tell myself, “It works because magic.” and don't let myself get bogged down in the details.
The biggest frustration with this book is, as it's part of the middle, it ends on a cliffhanger. As a matter of fact, it even ends in mid-conversation, which resulted for me in a, “That's it?” I did do a little research and found out that unfortunately Linda Evans has suffered a number of health problems recently which has prevented her from writing and has delayed work on this series. David Weber is currently working to get another author involved, but it seems it will be some time before the planned other two books of this series are completed. Hopefully things can get back on track soon and I wish Linda Evans all the best.
If you're as interested in fantasy vs. technology stories as I am, this one is a pretty good choice, but I'd recommend starting with Hell's Gate like I should have done. As is typical for Weber, there are plenty of characters and plot threads, some of which aren't resolved in this book and one of which disappears off the face of the earth. Hopefully they'll get tied up in the later books, but it looks like we're going to have to wait for a while.