I want to say either I liked this book or I disliked it, but really, it was just pretty bland, and had neither any Big Ideas nor characters memorable enough to leave an impression. Filled the time but left me with no desire to read the rest of the 11+ book series. Evidently, this book introduces plots and characters who recur throughout the series and is something of a prequel.
The Shereika want to wipe out all life in the universe, and humanity is fighting a losing war against them. Humankind has bred people to be soldiers, slaves, and assassins, creating a fairly traditional aliens-light space opera universe. Even the Shereika are actually genetically engineered humans. Humans are losing the war and falling back from the spiral arm. The Shereika are mostly an off-stage threat in this book, intergalactic bogeymen who have listening devices and agents everywhere, but don't show up in their planet-killing ships... yet.
The POV alternates between two main characters. M. Jela Granthor's Guard is a genetically-engineered soldier who, while fighting the Shereika on a distant uninhabited planet, happened upon a group of sentient trees and deduced that they had somehow fended off the Shereika. So he carts a tree around for the rest of the book. On a special assignment from the military, he runs across Cantra yos'Phelium, a generically-engineered assassin who's now the solo captain of a "dark trader" - i.e., a smuggler. The two of them end up rescuing a genetically-engineered slave, Dulsey, and taking her to a mysterious man known as the Uncle who runs some sort of free colony for other slaves like Dulsey, out in the beyond.Crystal Soldier
has a bit of a Firefly
vibe to it, and also reminded me of The Phoenix in Flight
by Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge, another first novel by an authorial duo in a sprawling epic space saga, and another one I found moderately entertaining but just too paint-by-numbers to really get invested in what happens next. I don't know what it says about my reading tastes that star-destroying mega-battlecruisers no longer intrigue me. I loved Niven and Saberhagen back in the day, but 11 books of this just make me think of better or more interesting books on my TBR list.
So, this was good SF, not great SF, and if you are looking for a long series maybe it will grab you more than it grabbed me.
(I do find it very amusing that when I search Goodreads for "Crystal Soldier" the second of two results below this one is I'll Be Your Drill, Soldier
. I would really like to know how that search algorithm works...)