From the outset of this book I was hooked: the opening scene was full of action and set the stage for an intense and somewhat conflicted hero in Natharis. He is chasing Mikain, who is a terrorist with a bomb, and we get the sense that Natharis is battling against his own pride as much as his adversary. At the end of the fight, he targets a cable that Mikain is using to escape and shoots it so that he doesn't get away, and they manage to take him alive. It is an amazing shot, but Natharis brushes it off. The reader is immediately informed that Natharis doesn't want his name in the newspaper because he isn't a glory seeker. He was only doing his job.
It goes from here to introduce Livia, who is an even more powerful character and easily my favorite in the story. She is at the center of a religious organization that controls people through lust and trains young women how to be companions, and early on we see her being dominated and used by her religious leader. Though that leaders religious title is one that cannot be reprinted here, suffice to say it is a complicated religion in many ways. It reminded me, as did a lot of the story, of the short-lived television show Firefly, though this was a little bit less generous in its depiction of the religion and the way it utilized its powers and contained more immediate social commentary.
The story progresses very smoothly and E. Bryan has a gift for making his characters come alive. There were a large number of side characters that were introduced along the way, but each of them had their own personality and unique traits so they were easy to keep track of. The final showdown when Livia walks in upon an orgy and takes on the religious figurehead was fantastic and vivid and it was easy to root for the good guys.
The Aetherverse by E. Bryan started out with a bang and never really let up on the intensity and action presented in the story. I rate it 4 out of 4 stars and truly enjoyed reading it and getting to know these characters. By the time it was done I was sad it was over and looking forward to seeing what they might do now. The world being presented echoed clearly with the world we live in and the novel contained quite a few social commentaries that never became cumbersome or heavy-handed. I love stories with a corrupt religion and the people who fight to make it better, and I think that anyone who enjoys political science fiction about unlikely companions taking on much more powerful enemies will really find a winner with this book.