The abduction of a Mokuteki female kicks off this sci-fi adventure of interstellar travel, alien invasions, and a confrontation with those who attacked Kai’s world 2000 years earlier.
The new provisional leader of the Mokuteki must undergo a testing phase to prove himself worthy of a leadership position. His people, once a technologically advanced species, had believed themselves invincible until their complacency resulted in an alien attack that had left his world in ruins. This slaughter of over two-thirds of his people left an indelible reminder that, while technology has its place, balance is needed. To complete his testing, Kai learns he must rescue Asher, his soul's companion and a victim of an abduction. His search for Asher leads Kai to face his people’s past and confront the Thrakens—the alien invaders who had decimated his world some two thousand years earlier.
The heart of this epic is one man’s quest to rescue his soulmate, but Eubanks threads the tale with intricate worldbuilding and fascinating themes, such as concerns about humanity’s dependence on technology, how personal perception can alter history, and the conflict between the desire to remain civilized and the necessity to defend oneself against enemies. Kai’s physical and mental prowess are equally matched by Asher’s strength and pose; when his loyalty toward her gets tested, Kai’s rational personality is pitted against the hopeless romantic he is at his core, creating significant tension.
Eubanks presents the spacefaring technology and tricky time-travel adventures of her complex universe with inviting clarity while showcasing her ability to craft visceral images: “The intense swirl of cloud started to drain of its many colors, becoming pure white as it began to dissipate, eventually leaving just a wispy veil of fog behind.” She sprinkles inventive elements throughout, such as a Tutor—a device that syncs with the wearer’s genetic material and plays educational material—or kips, the whiskers on Kai's ears that help detect movement. While some points of plot or tech get repeated in dialogue, the narrative moves at a pleasant pace, waxing and waning between action and reflection. Readers looking for a sci-fi romance filled with adventure and a likeable protagonist will enjoy Halls of Skulls.
Takeaway: An SF epic packed with action, romance, and a quest across space-time to rescue a soulmate.
Great for fans of: Lois McMaster Bujold, Carol Van Natta.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A+
"This science-fiction adventure tale with a romantic twist delivers a labyrinthine plot that will delight readers who enjoy following a hero figure on a complicated quest. Koa Kai is chosen to become Captain of the Mokuteki people, take leadership of the planet Churi, and literally occupy the Tei Tog—“the [golden] captain’s seat named after the legendary captain who had reigned millennia ago.”But first, he must prove himself worthy of this great honor by undergoing a torturous series of trials called “the Kezrado.” His winding quest through portals of space and time takes him to other eras on both his own and alien planets, to the period of the legendary Tei Tog himself, for whom the great chair is named, and even to the world of the Thrakens, alien invaders who had nearly conquered his world 2,000 years before. Various events of the present become entwined with the past worlds of the Mokuteki and Thrakens, and Koa Kai must not only avoid being trapped in temporal and physical locations, he must also rescue his betrothed, Asher, who has been abducted as part of the challenge, and taken to the Thrakens.While attempting to return both himself and Asher to Churi, he must also observe all the laws of the ritualized Kezrado, or face humiliation when—and if—he manages to return. This is a markedly clever story, with excellent characterization and an utterly believable time travel milieu. The careful, deliberate pacing, instead of a speed-driven high-adventure writing style, serves the narrative well by weaving the complexities of time travel and a multilayered plot into the story at a pace readers can absorb, while dropping hints about what may come. And a stunning ending will inspire readers to review the book to see where the author left clues they might have missed the first time around. In all, science fiction fans will savor this plot-driven, romantic adventure that ushers them seamlessly through time and space. Also available as an ebook. - BlueInk Reviews (starred review)
"Jamie Eubanks’s intricate, inventive fantasy novel Hall of Skulls combines cosmic futurism with a timeless tale of love and suffering."Kai is positioned to become the leader of his people and their government, but he doesn’t want to rule. His main concern is Asher, a native of Churi, who he considers to be his soul’s companion. Their close bond is apparent early on, in a scene where Kai relaxes next to Asher and shows all the signs of infatuation."When Asher is abducted by Kai’s ancestral enemies, Kai sets out to find her. To do so, he overcomes herculean tasks put in his way by the dreaded Thrakens—the alien invaders who conquered and subjugated Kai’s world nearly two thousand years earlier. In the process, Kai travels to the mysterious Hall of Skulls—a repository of ancient wisdom and lost technology."Kai’s hunt for the Hall, as well as his running battles with the Thrakens, make up the majority of the novel and are thoroughgoing in their suspense. Planets, empires, weapons, technology, and assorted bureaucracies are all explained in detail. When the Thrakens are introduced, history becomes the major point of focus, too...""Kai and Asher’s obvious fondness for each other is also covered in descriptive terms, making Kai’s suffering after she’s kidnapped a potent force. His motivations are pure and praiseworthy, and he suffers much in order to save her: he enters into battles and endures difficulties in passages that balance physical actions with glimpses into his internal monologues. Kai’s embrace of responsibility moves the story forward: as he undergoes his mission to save Asher, he also learns that some burdens must be worn, including his responsibility toward his people as their natural leader."In the conclusion of this classical tale of love and adventure, Kai’s travels lead to a shocking reveal that sets up future adventures. Much of what Kai knew—or thought he knew—at the beginning of the book is stripped away, though the mystery of the Hall of Skulls itself is only partially explained."In the fantasy novel Hall of Skulls, a young man works to save his true love and to achieve eternal wisdom." - FOREWARD CLARION REVIEW
"In this SF epic, a young man endures a grueling series of challenges to become a leader and to find his beloved."Thousands of years ago, the Mokuteki were invaded by the Thrakens, whom they were only barely able to defeat. Afterward, the Mokuteki returned to what they called the “Old Ways”—a tradition that focuses on physical combat and endurance training and eschews much of the advanced technology that distracted them and left them vulnerable to attack. Now, 22-year-old Kai Koa—who would much rather live on a farm with the love of his life, Asher—must undergo a ritual challenge to become a leader of the Mokuteki. After enduring some torturous physical trials, he faces “the Challenge,” an individualized final test: He must find Asher, who’s been kidnapped and sent off-world—and, perhaps, to an entirely different point in time. After a frantic opening, the novel settles comfortably into a time-travel tale, as Kai is transported 2,000 years into the past, during the Thrakens’ invasion of his planet. Eubanks slowly reveals how Kai evolves from a modest, unambitious young man to the leader he’s destined to become. The plot takes several twists and turns as the protagonist struggles to find Asher, and along the way, he learns that his culture’s version of history may not have all the facts. When Kai finally learns Asher’s location, he takes a drastic step to reunite with her. Over the course of the novel, the plot jumps frequently between the past and the future and between different worlds. However, Eubanks makes sure to ground the story in Kai’s obsessive quest and on the gradual unveiling of the Thrakens’ true nature. The tale is also well anchored by the vividly described romance at its center, and it culminates in a surprising conclusion."A clever, twisty, time-hopping tale." --KIRKUS REVIEWS