This is the first novel set in Asaro's award-winning and continuing Skolian Empire series. I posted a general review of the series on this blog in July 2007 and a review of another of the novels, The Ruby Dice, in May 2010. I went into some detail concerning the background to the series in my 2007 review, so I recommend that this be read now before continuing with this review (scroll down to a linked index to all of my novel reviews in the left hand column).
I have just re-read Primary Inversion for the first time since it was published in 1995 as it is one of the monthly reads for the Classic Science Fiction discussion group. It features a few critical months in the life of Sauscony (Soz) Valdoria, a formidable heroine who is one of the rare Rhon psions on which the Skol-Net (the Skolian Empire's unique instantaneous communications network) depends and is also a Jagernaut Primary - a surgically enhanced warrior with a rank equivalent to a fleet admiral. She is also the half-sister of the Skolian Imperator, Kurj, and his potential heir.
The author includes a lot of infodumps in the first few chapters to bring readers up to speed with the background setting, in the form of explanations by the main characters to others. This could be tedious but is handled well, being broken down into manageable chunks and interspersed with a lot of action, including a ferocious space battle.
The story begins with Soz on leave with her Jagernaut team on a neutral planet where they meet a group from the Eubian Concorde, the deadly enemies of the Skolian Empire. The man they are guarding (Jaibriol) is a Highton, the highest caste of the sadistic Eubian Aristos, and Soz discovers two things about him; he is the previously unknown heir to the Eubian Emporer, and his appearance is a sham - he has been selectively bred and genetically engineered to be a Rhon psion with the aim of defeating Skolia by taking over the Skol-Net. He has lived a protected life and is unaware of his intended role or of the true nature of the Aristos, and the mutual attraction between Jaibriol and Soz is immediate and powerful.
Soz has her own psychological problems dating back ten years to when she was briefly captured by the Eubians and used as a "provider"; someone who was tortured for an Aristo's pleasure. Her struggles to maintain her sanity, outwit the cold and calculating Kurj and resolve her relationship with Jaibriol - who by rights should be her deadliest enemy - take up most of the book.
Primary Inversion is an exciting thriller on its own and also acts as a scene-setter for the rest of the series. Many of the characters we meet here - including Kurj and Soz's parents - plus some who are only mentioned, feature much more strongly in subsequent novels. I will conclude my review with the same words I used at the end of my 2007 series review:
"This is a very good modern version of the traditional space-opera, and recommended to anyone who enjoys this sub-genre."