It was never going to be easy to follow up Wizards at War, so I can cut Duane some slack for the unevenness of this book. It takes a long time for the central conflict to show up, and then the climax is a bit rushed. The expanding role of Carmela into this world felt forced and she nearly veers into Mary Sue territory. The whole thing with Nita and Kit maybe starting to have feelings for each other didn't exactly come out of nowhere but since they've been kept apart for most of the previous few books, it felt unearned. There was a great deal of telling versus showing when it comes to their friendship. Plus the fact of them not talking and comparing notes as a way to get all this stuff to happen on Mars in the first place just didn't feel authentic if they're supposed to be such tight friends.
Still, even if this wasn't up to her usual standards, it still has all the things that have made Duane's other books in this series such good reads: imaginative settings, lush descriptions, personal conflict and stakes, and more background into a newly discovered alien race packed into a couple of hundred pages than most tv shows can manage over their entire runtimes. She makes the Shamask-Eilit real, and the use of the LP here is certainly unlike any we've seen in the previous books too, which is something I've been asking for for awhile.
This is far from my favorite, but once things started picking up, it made up for the somewhat slow and uneven beginning.