Replete with political intrigue, a powerful alien aggressor, and parables of human folly, The Saga of Seven Suns has everything a reader wants from an epic science fiction adventure. Kevin J. Anderson has created a vision of humanity's future both comfortable and unique. While adhering to many established tropes in space operas, including a handwaved FTL drive and form of instantaneous communication (sort of), Anderson has crafted interesting political entities and distinct cultures with often-conflicting agendas.
I first read Hidden Empire several years ago, but I lost track of the series after a couple of books, so now I'm re-reading them from the beginning. Some of the blurbs on the back of this edition compare Anderson to Frank Herbert, but Hidden Empire is no Dune. (And any of the Dune books written by Kevin J. Anderson aren't technically Dune either, because they're actually Kevin J. Anderson books!) Anderson is certainly a capable storyteller, but he's not in the league of Frank Herbert, and he's only an average writer at best. Hidden Empire consists of more telling than showing than I'd like to see--i.e., Anderson's omniscient third-person narrator often relates what characters think or desire instead of showing us through actions and specific scenes. Nevertheless, the plot of Hidden Empire makes up for any deficiencies in its characters.
This time, the aliens aren't invading Earth. Instead, in igniting a gas giant into a star, humans accidentally decimated a settlement of an alien species known as the "hydrogues", who live in the mega-pressure depths of gas giants. Interpreting this as an act of war, the hydrogues retaliate with their superior technology. And this isn't the first time the hydrogues have lashed out against "rock-dwellers," as we learn from disparate discoveries by human archaeologists and an unfortunate Ildiran historian. Yet Anderson makes it clear that even if the hydrogues don't ultimately destroy humanity, the machinations of its various cultures during the war may be humanity's undoing.
The plot of Hidden Empire is simply delightful. Predictable at times? Sure. Occasionally trite? Of course. It's got a nice balance of action and introspection, with a touch of romance and the necessary tragedy to accompany it. There are almost too many characters, but for an "epic" space opera, this is forgivable. Some you dismiss almost immediately, or write off as villainous. Others will eventually die, if not in this book, then the next, or maybe the one after that. A couple remain dear to your heart--I've a soft spot for the spunky Roamer Tasia, and for the green priests Nira and Beneto as well. Chairman Basil Wenceslas is a necessary antagonist, although the Mage-Imperator seems rather cardboard at times (again, Anderson's weak point lies in characterization).
Anyone who reads science fiction, especially space operas, needs to give Hidden Empire a try.