Tuesday, 13 November 2007
‘Queen of Candesce (Book Two of Virga)’ – Karl Schroeder (Tor Books)
Even if the words inside turn out to be absolutely awful I’m always a sucker for a book with a cool looking cover. This scattergun approach has led me to some great finds but, at the same time, has also led me to some books that I am even now trying my hardest to forget. When ‘Queen of Candesce’ came through the letterbox I was confronted with what has to be a serious contender for ‘Graeme’s favourite cover art… ever’. The picture has a real sense of the unknown to it; vast open spaces dotted with weird alien structures, just the kind of sci-fi that I like. Luckily, the story inside did the cover justice.
‘Queen of Candesce’ is actually the second book in a series, thankfully Schroeder gives the proceedings a very definite beginning and end (a drops little reminders, about previous events, throughout the story) so you could read this on it’s own. I haven’t read ‘Sun of Suns’ (Book One) but if ‘Queen of Queens’ is anything to go by then I may just have to search out a copy.
Our heroine, Venera Fanning, was last seen falling into the nothingness that comprises the greater part of Virga, a collection of floating city-states held within a gigantic bubble in space. She lands in the ancient nation of Spyre and must use all her tricks (learnt in her father’s court) to survive and, eventually, thrive. All the while she is driven by thoughts of revenge and an artefact in her possession that makes her the most dangerous woman in Virga…
Now, science was never my strong point at school so when ‘Queen of Candesce’ opened with a detailed description of life in artificial gravity, and how rotating cities… errr… rotate, my heart sank a little. Thankfully I stuck with it and was treated to some pretty impressive worldbuilding coupled with a gripping tale. Spyre is made up of dozens of small city-states constantly fighting to increase their territory by a matter of mere feet (the ‘Pantry War’ is a great example of this) and Schroeder lavishes detail on each and every one of them. He paints a picture that you can see in your head and the decrepit overgrown districts of Spyre take on a life of their own away from the page. The story itself starts off slowly but as events start to snowball so does the prose. Intrigue and double-cross are the order of the day and it can be hard to keep track of all the characters (and what they’re up to) at any given moment. Funnily enough, it’s the characters that let things down ever so slightly, it’s almost as if Schroeder had so much fun coming up with this strange new world that he forgot to make characters to match. Venera, Moss and Garth are all characters that you will want to read about but they just seem a little pale when set against the vivid world that they inhabit. Having said that, it’s worth reading this book just for the conclusion to the story behind Venera’s bullet wound, I never saw that conclusion coming!
Minor flaws aside, ‘Queen of Candesce’ borders on being an essential read for a sci-fi fan that likes things a little dark and ideas that are second to none. It’s not the best but certainly one of the better sci-fi books I’ve read this year.
Eight and a Half out of Ten