RogerBW's Blog

Furious Heaven, Kate Elliott 23 August 2023

2023 space-operatic SF, second of a planned trilogy. Sun Shan and the Chaonian forces have won their first great victory over the Phene Empire, but domestic complications arise.

I liked the first book a great deal. Ths one I loved. It's still mostly gender-swapped Alexander the Great, this book dealing largely with the conquest of the not-Persian Empire, but while it uses the structure of his life as a starting point, Elliott doesn't feel restricted by that. So we have genetic engineering, legal and otherwise; we have massive FTL tugs, controlled by neutral (or "neutral") parties, that tow caravans of other ships from world to world (and are subject to sabotage); replacing the Persian courier network we have the Phene telepathic "riders" who provide instantaneous communications across their empire… but at the same time we have recognisable human politics and factionalism and jealousy and pride.

The central region of space was gone, replaced by an object so large Makinde couldn't make sense of its glittering lights and cliff-like wall until he realized space wasn't gone. Space had never left. A gigantic ship had appeared as if in an eyeblink, rather like a magician's hat trick but really just a perceptual artifact of knnu drives.

This is all driven by people, and that's what makes it work through the huge space battles and planetside fighting: all these states have something like monarchical rule, and individual rules and commanders have huge influence on events. (Which is standard for space opera, of course, but Elliott makes it seem plausible.) The effect of power on those who have it, and on those who get close to it, is superbly observed.

To my surprise, I see Ti over by one of the fire exits, which is shaped as a gaudy arch carved to resemble a vulva. Really? A vulva? No, no, it's just me translating. It's a stylized calla lily.

It's a glorious wallow of a book, with action and excitement and emotion, with brawls and battles and philosophising. It's long, but always thoroughly absorbing.

This bar is connected to another bar that is connected to another bar, all linked by ramps, stairs, and twisting paths as if they are one huge beacon route map enhanced by liquor, eats, dancing, and whatever else the Phene do for a good time.

The anticipated third book will have to cover the period corresponding to Alexander's death… and I, usually deeply suspicious of that kind of theme to a book, find myself trusting Elliott to handle it well.

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