When I first read this fat, extraordinary novel a decade ago, I concluded it was one of the best science fiction novels produced in (at least) the past half-century, and, having now re-read it, I still believe that. It's set in Cherryh's Merchanter universe (a couple of generations after the concluding war, the story of which she told in Downbelow Station), but that's really only the distant backdrop. (You'll also find here the back-story to Forty Thousand in Gehenna.) This is a very detailed, very in-depth, very carefully worked-out, very thought-provoking study of power and the claustrophobic effects of its mis-management, of the relationship of "natural born" psychology to manufactured and tailored minds, of the effects on a society of an artificial underclass (the "azi") that is both more and less than chattel slavery, . . . and along with all that, a satisfying and very affecting story of a cold, slightly inhuman genius and the mystery of her death (which was possibly a murder), and the replicate who is intended to replace her -- and who succeeds more completely, perhaps, than her creators ever anticipated. At 680 pages, there are, of course, several other plots moving full-tilt, also filled with detail and nuance, but they all interrelate nearly seamlessly. Her ability to play off one character's collection of concerns against another's is amazing, and she shows a considerable (and very speculative) understanding of the depths of psychological intervention. She's also a master of precise prose . . . when she wants to be. I have never doubted that this book did indeed deserve the Hugo it was awarded. And now I shall put it back on its shelf for another decade.