RogerBW's Blog

Alien Arcana, Glynn Stewart 19 November 2022

2016 SF, fourth of its series. On an archaeological site light years from Earth, an academic magician makes an interesting discovery… and is promptly murdered.

Because this isn't, for the most part, a story about the discovery and its implications. This is a story about a conspiracy of secrecy, one that seems to have agents everywhere, and one which very nearly succeeds.

I think that may be one of the things I like about this series. Damian Montgomery, Hand of Mars and Rune-Wright, is tremendously powerful: he can, single-handedly, defend a planetary base against kinetic and nuclear attack from space! But he never feels as though he's getting a free pass: there's a cost to this power, and even at his most potent he still needs to be aware of an assassin or a bomb before he can do anything about them. (So he gets a space marine bodyguard.)

A subtle point here is that the conspiracy probably started off as an honest thing, temporarily keeping some secrets that would be revealed when the time was right… but now it's two generations later, and they've sunk far enough into the end-justifying-means mindset that there is essentially no limit to the atrocities they're prepared to commit, or the collateral damage they're prepared to accept, in the name of keeping the secrets. It's ferociously hard to tell a story of this sort and keep me engaged, and Stewart convinces me both that the secret could have been kept this long and that this particular guy could break it.

Yes, all right, it's a bit of a wrench from the overarching plotline that we've been seeing in earlier books, but I suspect things will become clearer as the story progresses. (This does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, and with many questions unanswered.)

The series so far has been mostly military SF with a bit of a twist, but this takes it in a different direction – which I suspect will annoy the people who came for the military SF, though there's still plenty of action here. There are various technical problems (like the way certain pieces of tech are explained at length each book), but there's something about Stewart's writing that keeps me enthusiastic.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Previous in series: Voice of Mars | Series: Starship's Mage

  1. Posted by David Pulver at 11:19pm on 21 November 2022

    This sounds interesting enough that I've just ordered the first one in the series (which I see you also reviewed).

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:24am on 22 November 2022

    Don't expect a new classic of Western literature, but as action-focused SF goes, this manages to avoid many of the usual things that irk me, while having enough good stuff to retain my enthusiasm.

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