The Crucible of Empire by Eric Flint & K. D. Wentworth (Jao Empire 2)

This is what I like in space opera, giant space ships, epic battles, first contact and alien races. The first book, The Course of Empire is about humanity carving out a place for themselves in Jao society after the Jao’s occupation of Earth, described with excellent alien perspective. I am really impressed by the authors ability to write yet another unique and believable alien point of view in this book.

When humans and their Jao overlords joined forces in a desperate battle to save the Earth from the malevolent race called the Ekhat, the relationship between the two species was changed forever. Two years later, humans and Jao are learning to work in an uneasy alliance. Then, in a distant nebula, three Jao ships detect signs of another sentient species during a battle with the Ekhat. Only one of the ships returns, with most of its crew or injured.

Earth’s Preceptor Ronz suspects the unknown species was actually the Lleix, a name out of the Jao’s past, and an ancient shame from the period in their development when they themselves were still ruled by the maniacal Ekhat.

Ronz sends the Lexington, a massive ship built on Earth and crewed by both human and Jao, to investigate. The Lexington dwarfs any ship ever built by the Jao and even outmasses Ekhat ships, which may enable it to survive the attack that destroyed two of the three Jao ships. But if the expedition does find a surviving remnant of the Leleix, will the survivors trust the Jao? And should they?

The Authors

Eric Flint has written some of my favorite science fiction series 1632 and Wages of Sin. One of his strenghts is collaborations as in 1633 and Crown of Slaves with David Weber. I haven’t read his Belisarius series written with David Drake, but I have it on my to-read list. Eric Flint is noted as the editor of the Baen Free Library, and I love Baen Free Library, I have found a number of new authors and series there. His website is one the best sites on the net for Snippets from new books not only from Baen.

K. D. Wentworth is author of seven novels according to wikipedia, including Black on Black and Stars Over Stars for Baen, and more than fifty short stories. Her latest novel is This Fair Land (Hawk), an alternate history fantasy of the era of Columbus. I haven’t read anything else by her but I am inclined to do so after reading the Jao Empire books.

Format and Information

Hard cover : 448 pages
Cover art by Bob Eggleton
Published by Baen (US) / Simon & Schuster (UK)

Dedicated to the memory of Jim Bean by the authors.

The cover art is beautiful and depict some kind of biological looking ship thing in front of a sun being approached by a more traditional spacecraft.

I started enjoying this book long before it was published thanks to the snippets on Eric Flint’s place on the web.

World building

The world building in this book is good and it is refreshing in that it doesn’t assume human superiority. Interaction between alien societies is a central theme of the whole series.

The new integration of humanity into Jao society is both challenging and reason for us humans to feel proud. The Jao was uplifted by the Ekhat to be their perfect servants and now they start to develop individuality and creativity under the ‘bad’ influence of their human partners. That’s like giving a loaded gun to a kid, just much more amusing.

The Lleix starting with their rigid ritualistic and yet artistic society is masterfully depicted. They have been running from the Ekhat and the Jao for a long time, some of them expect the end of days any day now especially with the Ekhat incursion into the nebula. So it’s understandable that they are far from trusting of the Jao.

One interesting part of the story is how technology evolve when Jao and human technology merge.


The plot is pretty straight forward, go to the nebula, contact the Lleix, save them from the Ekhat that are sure to return soon while pretending to be human so you don’t freak out the Lleix and help them evacuate. But of course it’s not that easy.


The characters are easy to love and the general optimistic outlook is refreshing. Of course you find the usual competent individual that is so common in Space Opera. We also have a nice overlap in characters from book one. But we are also introduced to a few new ones.

There is good character growth especially for Tully that has to take charge of a company and Caitlin who has to handle first contact negotiations with the Lleix.

The practical jokes, long tales and banter between the humans and the Jao is delightfully entertaining.

My View

The Crucible of Empire is an entertaining story of first contact and mixing of cultures that begs for more, I can’t wait on the next novel. If you like interesting aliens and space opera this is definitely a book for you, start with The Course of Empire book one in the Jao Empire Series.