Veiled Alliances is a prequel to Kevin Anderson’s seven volume SF extravaganza The Saga of the Seven Suns, occurring a few hundred years before the first volume, Hidden Empire, and published before Anderson was even halfway through the novels. It’s an exercise in providing the background to those novels, the majority set around the time humanity has first contact with the Ildirians, an advanced civilisation generously prepared to share their technology. Earth may have a King, but it’s for ceremonial purposes only, and the true power rests with Malcolm Stannis, an ambitious and unscrupulous businessman.

Anderson switches the action between Earth and several planets the Ildirians have colonised with humans sent out on spaceships a generation before, but applies a shorthand manner. He switches between scenes quickly, never lingering long enough to engage readers with the people he introduces, and considerable time passes between viewings of each location. Veiled Alliances therefore reads as if somewhere along the way Anderson constructed historical background notes for his saga, detailing significant events, and these are what he’s fallen back on. It’s story material, but only providing snippets of story. On Theroc, Thara is transformed by the indigenous foliage. The crew of the crippled Burton is on the verge of mutiny when finally located by the Ilidirains. Other humans are placed in charge of the mining facilities on Daym. Over three scenes each, plus a couple of trips back to Earth, we learn how they progress.

It’s a shame the writing is so distanced and cavalier, because artist Robert Teranishi really puts the effort in to create something of elegant beauty. Every human being is idealised as a stunning physical specimen, but Teranishi brings alien landscapes to decorative life and alien creatures to threatening life, with Wendy Fouts-Broome’s bold, bright colours adding the final touch. The art drags the value of the entire project up.

Readers caught up in the extensive mythology Anderson unveils in the novels will appreciate the brief glimpses of how humanity transformed into the races who clash in those novels. Anyone not engaged with that saga, though, is unlikely to investigate further on the basis of Veiled Alliances. The added complication is that in 2016 Anderson chose to revise Veiled Alliances as a novel, the hardcover edition including his script for the graphic novel.