Major Bhaajan, retired from the army, was satisfied with her new life as a PI when she was contracted by an unusual client. All of a sudden, she finds herself back on her home planet and is forced to revisit her past to solve her client’s case.

“I had lived in the undercity, deep below the gleaming City of Cries, a dust rat surviving on my wits, my ability to steal, and my sheer cussed refusal to let poverty kill me.”

page 20

Undercity is a fast-paced adventure on a world the juxtaposes the glitz and privilege of the upper-class with the grit and struggle of the undercity. In the end, it might even be the destitute people living in the undercity that hold the answers for the whole world.

Why is this on our bookshelf?

Catherine Asaro is a tour de force when it comes to science fiction and I’ve been dying to read her books. I love sci-fi adventures with great planets, awesome vehicles, high-tech weapons and fast learning Evolving Intelligence computers.

Rating (4 stars)

I hadn’t read any of Catherine Asaro’s books when I was presented with a copy of The Undercity. It’s the first in a brand-new series and a perfect place to jump into her writing.

It’s set in the Skolian Empire like her other popular books, but I didn’t need to know anything to get totally sucked in (although I was thrown by the complete gender role reversal of the matriarchal society… which is awesome). Major Bhaajan is a badass in the vein of Han Solo and I love her.

Another unique aspect is the book is almost set in three distinct acts that almost seem like standalone stories except for the their connections.

I will say that the book suffered from some predictability with a blatant savior plot, but I found the moral struggles of the society to be fairly realistic. How often are one culture’s ideals imposed onto another culture that is assumed to need saving?

But don’t try to analyze this book too much— at its heart, it succeeds because it is a science fiction adventure, not because of any deeper hidden meaning.

It has plenty of sci-fi glitz to satisfy the genre lovers like me, including evolving intelligence computers that I really really want. Like if my iPhone was way smarter and could make pithy remarks.

So yes, although the story sometimes pointedly and blatantly assured the reader that it was telling the origin story of a legend, those stories are what I enjoy about these kinds of books anyway.