Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross
The amazon.com product description:
Millennia ago, the planet Darkover, a cold world orbiting a giant red sun, was settled by a lost colony ship from the Terran Federation. Alone on a new world, survivors interbred with the native chieri, psychically Giften alien humanoids. The children of these matings were Gifted with telepathy and other psychic abilities, and their descendants, the aristocratic Comyn, forged a civilization in which the arts of the mind were cultivated and cherished.Of late, I've done some muttering about the Amazon.com product descriptions. I take that back for this one. It's actually better than the back cover blurb (of course, it's also two or three times the length).
When the Terrans rediscovered Darkover, the seven Domains of Comyn struggeld to maintain their unique culture and independence, often at a terrible price. More than once, assassins and environmental saboteurs from the Terran Empire attempted to bring Darkover to its knees and erode the native culture for the benefit of the Federation -- seing Darkover as nothing more than a port of call for Terran military and trade. Eventually, a vicious interstellar war forced Federation forces to withdraw from Darkover, but Darkovans knew that it was only a matter of time before they would return.
Prince Garth Elhalyn has grown up in the shadow of his legendary grandfather, Regis Hastur, one of the greatest leaders Darkover has ever known. But he is also haunted by fear of the insanity that is prevalent in his Elhalyn family line. His world has become an unbearable counterpoint of meaningless aristocratic frivoloty and dangerous political schemes -- plots in which powerful lords attmept to use him to further their own ambitions. He tries his best to better himself through the study of languages, swordplay, and training his psychic laran with his grandmother, Linnea Storn-Hastur, Keeper of Comyn Tower. But Gareth cannot stop dreaming about a future without fame or family.
In a desperate attempt to remove himself completely from the restricted life of the Comyn, Gareth confesses his desire to his powerful grandmother, and with her blessing, disguises himself as a simple trader and travels to Carthon, on the border of the barbarous, warklike Dry Towns. The Dry Towns do not live under the rule of the Comyn, and no one in this isolated part of Darkover will recognize a Comyn lord.
In Carthon, protected by his guise of anonymity, Gareth overhears rumors of deadly, illegal Terran blasters being used in the barren lands beyond Shainsa -- one of the main Dry Towns. If the Federation has returned and is now arming the bellicose Dry Towners with banned technology, it will mean a disastrous conflict for the Comyn of the Domains, who have long sworn themselves to the Compact, an oath of honor that forbids the use of distance weaponry. Venturing deeper and deeper into the desert lands, Gareth stumbles upon a terrible reality no one could have suspected and he is ill-prepared to deal with.
But in fact, Gareth holds the key to protecting his world, if he can only stay alive in the deadly Dry Towns long enough to discover what it is....
The Children of Kings follows The Alton Gift and Traitor's Sun in the Darkover timeline.
It's been a while since I've read any of the Darkover novels, and to a slight extent, that did affect my read-through of Children of Kings. Mostly because I was struggling to remember completely who the main character was in relation to all the other characters and what had happened in the previous books.
Once I got past the first hundred pages or so (and got the who's-who straightened out in my head again) I found myself almost unable to put the book down. I really liked Deborah's take on Darkover and the Dry-Towns - a place we just haven't heard a lot about before now. It's always been in the background, but not too much has been written about them or the inhabitants, aside from The Shattered Chain.
I think that about all I knew about the Dry-Towners before this book was how touchy they were about their honor. Now, they feel like a fully-fleshed out part of the whole world of Darkover. Actually, I'd love to see something written about their origins now, aside from the rumors and hints given in this book. They're just so different than the rest of the Darkover inhabitants.
Slightly an aside, but does anyone know offhand, which was the book where the Terrans and Darkovans were studying telepathic powers? I think it was a fairly early book in the recontact era, but I can't even remember the title. It's just that one of the characters from it - which I remember vaguely - was mentioned briefly in The Children of Kings, and that's made me curious about it again.
I'm also feeling the need to re-read the World Wreckers - one of the Darkover novels not in my personal collection - as the events in that book are fairly integral to the background of this one. More so than the rest of the recent Darkover books, I think.
The Children of Kings is probably not the best book to start with if you haven't read any of the Darkover novels before; for that I might suggest Exile's Song and its sequels, which introduce the word quite thoroughly and starts off the story-line for the characters and events in The Children of Kings.
Overall, a book that I really enjoyed reading.