Sweep in Peace - the Innkeeper Chronicles gets better
With the second book this series gets more serious, more entertaining, and just plain better. As a fairly unique blend of both fantasy and sci-fi, it's great to see both aspects gaining more depth. Galactic politics come into play as Dina hosts a peace conference for three factions fighting over a single planet. The first faction are the Vampires of the Holy Anocracy and one of the attendees is Lord Arland who she met in Clean Sweep. She is also familiar with the Merchant Nuan Cee and his clan of the Lees. The third faction is the Hope Crushing Horde of the Otrokars who have often clashed with the Vampires as the two empires are both aggressive and expansive. The last time an Arbitrator tried to broker peace between the Otrakars and the Vampires it ended in disaster and blood. But in addition to the boost the Inn would get from forty guests staying several days, the Arbitrator offers a large paycheck that Dina desperately needs. According to the Treaty visitors to Earth must not reveal themselves to humans and the primary responsibility of the Innkeeper is to keep their guests safe. Dina is about to have a really bad week.
The three races are fighting over a strange planet called Nexus. It sits in a bazaar spatial anomaly that distorts time and gravity. Time moves three times faster on Nexus than the rest of the galaxy so there have been over twenty years of combat there despite the war only going on for seven years everywhere else. The turbulent atmosphere and other strange effects also prevent a modern war based on superior fire power and forces them to fight a more basic ground war of swords and spears. It's a hellish planet of no worth except for large deposits of a substance called kayo which is used in bio-military applications.
The Arbitrator is a man named George Camarine and he is an import from The Edge series, also by Ilona Andrews, which is essentially romantic fantasy. Parallel to our mundane Earth there is an Earth steeped in magic known as the Weird. Connecting the two is the Edge where magic is less powerful and the residents frequently work or attend school one Earth. George and his brother Jack were born in the Edge but were still children when they moved to the Weird. What's relevant to Sweep in Peace is that George is a powerful necromancer and his brother is a shapeshifter known as a changeling but like Dina, they are still human.
The Lees, better known as the Merchants, are a small bi-pedal foxlike race. Many underestimate the cute Lees who are not only successful traders but also deadly assassins. Their society is arranged in clans and based upon not only the accumulation of wealth but respect for their ancestors. The clan elder's wishes are paramount and they are carried everywhere in palanquins so that their feet will never touch the ground. They built a space elevator at the only viable spot on Nexus. They want peace so those mining the kayo can pay outrageous fees to ship it off planet through Clan Nuan's space station. The base is protected by mercenaries led by a mysterious and invincible warrior known as Turan Adin.
The Vampires are an empire of seven star systems that is half theocracy and half a feudal structure that strongly emphasizes personal honor and martial prowess. They are slightly larger and stronger than humans and the two species can interbreed. Yes, they have fangs. No, they don't drink blood. The human legends of vampires as undead blood drinkers came from their pale skin and the coffin sized stasis units they use when stuck on Earth for long periods. They are rarely seen in public without their syn-armor and they carry so called blood-weapons, such as swords and maces. Vampires are always up for a fight but even they are tired of the grueling battle on Nexus. Unfortunately, there are three major houses currently involved in the fight but only two of the Marshals want peace and the third is causing as much trouble as he can.
The Hope Crushing Horde, their name for themselves, are a tribal people who also revere warriors. Their biology has a curious quirk that is essentially based on the Lamarkian theory of evolution. When they hit adolescence their bodies start to specialize based upon their activities. If they lift weights for example, their bodies grow exponentially bigger and stronger. As a result each of them is highly specialized but does their job exceptionally well. Each of their soldiers is guaranteed a homestead if they survive their service which means their empire constantly requires more land to reward their troops which means they need more troops to conquer more land...its a cycle that has led to their aggressive reputation as bad neighbors. They are led by the Khan who is a warrior elected by popular vote. It is the Khan's wife, the Khanum, who wants peace on Nexus. She has already lost her older son to the war and now the younger is fighting.
Dina certainly has her hands full and George is not helping by manipulating everyone, including Dina herself, in his efforts to forge this peace. To her this is a pointless conflict with no clear path to victory for any one faction. Preparing for the Arbitration means bending physics as she changes Gertrude Hunt's floorplan and somehow finding a chef capable of preparing a banquet for four species who won't require much of a paycheck on short notice. She really misses Sean Evans as she tries to keep bored aliens entertained, adopts small stealthy predators, and replicates a police car after its hood is split open by a blood axe. Theft, assassination, murder, and mayhem all ensue. After a few days of that Dina is willing to risk her sanity and the fate of Gertrude Hunt to stop this war, and to save the man she only kissed once.
Second books are rarely as good as the first. This is the rare example that is better.
Renee Raudman continues to narrate the audio version of the series and the Audible reviews of her work for book two are better than book one.