The seemingly backward planet Menx is about to decide whether it should join the Concord or not; due to complicated politics, if they don't, the planet will essentially be strip-mined. Rhane of Siol has to get down there to recover the memories of his cousin's death. Along the way, he clashes with Menx's seemingly primitive belief in gods and runs into his childhood friend and crush Shiya.
That is a spectacularly bad plot summary, mostly because I can't remember the plot at all. In fact, there's a whole lot of this book that I don't remember, largely because I couldn't keep track of all the names and cultures and who meant what to whom and what insult meant what in what language.
Also, Rhane's cousin dies of a dread melting sickness, and I spent half of the book giggling hysterically any time anyone mentioned the melting sickness. Because it's a melting sickness! People turn into puddle of goop! There are tragic death scenes with one person essentially cradling a skin with goop! And my brain keeps going, "I'm meeeelting! I'm meeeelting!" a la Wizard of Oz. Sadly, I am pretty certain Maxwell meant for the disease to be heartwrenching and angsty, not giggle-inducing.
Well, my fit of being twelve does subside at the end, and the melting disease does become tragic, but not after a whole lot of laughter on my part.
I think I'd enjoy the worldbuilding more the second time around; this a book that focuses more on the revelations about the world than on the character relationships. I had gone in thinking it was the other way around, so I sort of skipped a lot of the worldbuilding details and therefore was a bit confused by the conclusion. I do wish we'd see more of Rhane and Shiya's relationship, though; what little is there is very interesting, and Shiya's very different from Maxwell/Lowell's standard too-innocent-to-live heroines.