Michelangelo Osiris Leary Kusangi-Jones, one of the few remaining on the repressively Governed population of Old Earth, and his erstwhile lover, Vincent Katherinessen, are sent on a diplomatic mission to Amazonia, ostensibly to return some stolen artworks to the matriarchal society there in return for access to it clean energy supply, but actually to soften up its government for an Old Earth takeover. However, everyone has their own secret agendas, all at odds with one another. Then the past of Amazonia starts to play an important role, possibly threatening the entire Coalition.
This is a story of complex politics, relationships, trusts, and betrayals, all with massive amounts of culture shock on both sides, sometimes over (seemingly) the smallest things, and lots of extremely high technology mostly in the background. Michelangelo and Vincent come from a society where women are second class citizens, and their own relationship is anathema, to one where the only men barely tolerated are such "gentles". Everyone underestimates everyone else, despite being astute politicians, because each side considers the others their inferiors.
This takes a while to get going, as each side warily circles the other, probing their defences. When the action eventually starts, it explodes along, as plot and counter-plot entwine in a fascinating manner.
Often, on reading a collection of stories by a single author, I find there's a feeling of "sameness". Not here. This collection of Bear's short stories has an enormous range, from hard SF ("Gone to Flowers" is a Jenny Casey story, telling of how she first met Peacock) to full out fantasy, by way of magic realism. The results range from very affecting, through weird (good weird, though) and puzzling, to "huh"? A theme running through is about making choices, and how it's never too late to change and make the right choice (even though it costs).
The children of the Light spend their days feasting, fighting, hunting, and guarding their human charges. But one dreadful day a woman is washed up from the sea, a lady who is no mortal, though she is no valkyrie either.
And then begins the breaking of children of the Light, and the tarnishing of their power, and the death of Valdyrgard.
Terrible danger approaches Cathoair and his son—the evil goddess Heythe, who engineered the death of Valdyrgard two thousand years before, has traveled forward in time on her rainbow steed. She arrived expecting to gloat over a dead world, the proof of her revenge, but instead she finds a Rekindled land, renewed by Muire’s sacrifice.
She will have her revenge by forcing this new Bearer of Burdens to violate her oaths. But Mingan, the Grey Wolf, sees his old enemy Heythe’s return. He will not allow it to happen again.
Once-Princess Samarkar is climbing the thousand steps of the Citadel of the Wizards of Tsarepheth. She was heir to the Rasan Empire until her father got a son on a new wife. She has renounced her worldly power to seek the magical power of a wizard.
These two will come together to stand against the hidden cult that has so carefully brought all the empires of the Celadon Highway to war through deceit and sorcerous power.
Re Temur and the Wizard Samarkar have reached the great city of Asitaneh and the house of his powerful grandfather. They intend to mount an assault on the fortress of the Rahazeen, to rescue Temur’s beloved. It seems impossible, but Temur has sworn a magical oath, and he has a Wizard of Tsarepheth at his side.
Far to the east, the attack on the Rasan Empire has taken the form of plague. The imperial city struggles against a terrible disease that kills all who contract it, and if the Emperor Songtsan falls to the disease, so too might the Rasan Empire—he has no heir who is of age.
But al-Sepehr has made one error. He has allowed the escape of his hostage Edene.
Temur has many enemies, and they are not idle. The sorcerer who leads the Nameless Assassins, whose malice has shattered the peace of all the empires of the Celedon Highway, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan empire, a magical plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. And in the hidden ancient empire of Erem, Temur’s son has been born and a new moon has risen in the Eternal Sky.
On the decaying generation ship Jacob's Ladder, Sir Perceval has been captured and maimed by her cousin Ariane as part of a plot to assume the Captaincy. But there are several other plotters, including fragments of possibly mad AIs left over from the original disaster. Perceval escapes with the help of her sister Rien, setting in motion a sequence of events that could lead to the destruction of the ship, or to finally finding a Captain and escaping the unstable star.
A great generation ship story. Here the nano-enhanced characters know they are on a generation ship, but have factionalised into groups each with only partial knowledge, and don't realise the very immediate danger they are in from their unstable star. The scale and future-alienness of the ship are well drawn, and the different characters -- AIs, augmented humans, unaugmented humans, and intelligent devices -- all have distinct voices. Perceval's struggle to work out what she should do when her emotions, but not her thoughts, are being manipulated by the AI Dust is particularly well done.
There is closure of the first part of the story, but the resolution, as with all good resolutions, mean they all have new problems to face. I'm looking forward to the next two in the trilogy.
The generation ship Jacob's Ladder, its crew of nano-enhanced humans, and the newly integrated Angel, have escaped the exploding star, and are on their journey once more. But it is badly damaged, and the crew must scramble to help it repair itself, along with tracking down the traitor Arianrhod, before she can unleash a rouge angel fragment in her quest for power.
This is essentially a long chase through the ship. The sheer size is made clear this way, as the pursuers come across sentient plants, and undiscovered human enclaves. Features of the ship, of the past antics of the kin-murdering crew, and of the original bonkers Builders, are slowly revealed. It's a bit slow to start with, as the various characters are followed in a hopscotch fashion. But it builds to a shattering and unexpected climax. All good preparation for the final book in the series.
The generation ship Jacob's Ladder and its damaged divided crew have finally reached a habitable planet. Not only habitable, but inhabited, but human colonists. The colonists aren't sure they want a bunch of psychopathic gene-engineered barbarians as neighbours; the crew aren't sure they want to undergo "rightminding" in order to become acceptable to the colonists. And an old enemy is waking up on the ship.
A fitting conclusion to the trilogy. People change and grow and die. Things happen that can't be undone. Decisions are made that have deep consequences. It is interesting to see the oh-so-rational rightminded colonists responding to an incursion from the darkest moments of their history. And it is interesting to see the crew facing up to the fact that there might be no safe harbour after all. The resolution was not what I was expecting. Bear has taken the "generation colony ship" theme, and breathed new life into it.
Jenny Casey, 50-year-old Canadian war veteran, suddenly finds her past coming back to haunt her. Street kids are dying from a contaminated batch of the military drug Hammer; her out-of-date military prosthetics are beginning to degrade, giving her terrifying combat flashbacks and slowly killing her; her old Captain is showing an interest in her again, because he needs her ability that let her successfully adapt to those prosthetics in the first place. Slowly she finds herself and her friends being ensnared again in the old politics she fought so hard to escape.
This is a great roller-coaster first novel. The crackling pace covers a wide range of action, and the multiple PoVs don't get in the way of advancing the plot, but rather give insight into the various great characters. The future geopolitical situation is bizarre, but the clever slow trickle of explanation provides just enough detail to make it just credible. The future tech includes a Richard Feynman AI, nano-tech implants, MilSpec designer drugs, beanstalks, and alien spaceships, all essential to the plot, which slowly unfolds into a complex whole without ever getting bogged down in info-dumping.
The sub-story concludes well, but the overall arc has yet to reach apogee.
Master Warrant Officer Jenny Casey, now drafted back into the Canadian Military, and even further augmented, is training to pilot a starship based on ill-understood alien technology. It's a desperate race to be the first to leave the slowly dying planet, and Casey has to tackle high-stakes politics, assassins from her past, international sabotage, a virus lurking in her enhancements, sentient AIs, possible alien visitors, and her own new relationships.
More exciting adventures at breakneck speed, upping the scale of the first book from an individual to a planetary scale. Characters you care about die. No-one is all good or all bad, but solidly three dimensional. Numerous red herrings and believable plot set-backs stop anything being too obvious or predictable. Again, there is sufficient conclusion to some subplots so that the book "ends", but still the overall plot is building up.
The third and final instalment of Jenny Casey's story sees the team up in orbit trying to communicate with the mysterious benefactors, whilst the Feynman AI, now in charge of the nanites infesting the Earth, is desperately trying to ameliorate the effects of the meteor strike on the climate. And all the while the PanChinese-Canadian conflict is in danger of escalating.
Again, the scale expands from the earlier books, now including the alien communication problems. Also, the earlier events are not forgotten, as characters struggle to overcome their grief and guilt about others who died. And the action continues, if not at so frenetic a pace, but still with a great shoot-out at the end.
Matthew is a Magus, working to protect the modern world from Faerie, particularly their habit of stealing away children. Jane is a leader of the Prometheans, a secret society dedicated to the downfall of the Faerie realm. Elaine, her daughter, is a Seeker, under geas to the Faerie Queen to seek out half-fae changeling children and return them to Faerie. Seeker's estranged werewolf lover Keith may have to fight for leadership of his pack to fulfil an ancient prophecy. Carel is the new Merlin, destined to play a role in the age-old war between men and fae. In a world where the old stories are destined to play out time and again, full war breaks out, that may destroy both sides.
This is a complex and deeply rich tale, that keeps spinning ever more beguiling plot-strands as it goes. It gives little quarter to the reader, who is assumed to know much of the mythology of Faerie, particularly the ballad of Tam Lin, which I had the advantage of coming across before on reading Pamela Dean's fine retelling. There's a lot in here, and a lot that isn't explained (such as the relationship with Hell, Angels, Arthurian legend, and the transition from third person to first person narration after one character goes through a deeply significant change), but that inexplicability just adds to the other-worldliness. It abounds with marvellous twists and turns: starting out from the simplistic premiss that the humans are right to be warring on the fae, it ends up not so much ambiguous about which side is right, as ambiguous about just how many sides there are in all (I counted at least six major sides by the end, with subdivisions in each, along with unaffiliated side-players), and who is on what side.
If you are wanting more Jenny Casey style hard core techno-thriller SF, you will be disappointed. But if you want a rich, complex, and beautifully crafted tale of Faerie in the modern day, this is for you. There is closure at the end, but clearly opportunity for further shenanigans. And after reading this, the title of the next one, Whiskey and Water, takes on a completely different meaning!
It's seven years (well, of course!) since the events of Blood and Iron. The various shattered factions have slowly been regaining their powers, or plotting anew, or sitting sulking. And just in case you felt you had it all figured out from last time, new factions appear: as well as the Prometheans, mages, Merlins, dragons, and fae, devils and angels now also take centre stage. We have several distinct devils, mirroring (caused by, mayhap?) particular poets, so Lucifer Morningstar and Satan are distinct characters. And Kit Marlowe has a role to play.
Things get complicated.
With all the characters manoeuvring, deceiving, outwitting, and intriguing, with prophesies looming, things slowly and somewhat bloodily build to a climax. From an action perspective that climax is less shattering than previously, but in another it completes the plot, and ties up many loose ends, in interesting and unexpected ways. And I love the last line.
Lady Abigail Irene Garrett, Detective Crown Investigator, and sorceress, has to tread a fine political line in New Amsterdam, between the loyal Crown representative Duke Richard, and the independence-hungry Mayor. But they both need her when supernatural murders occur. Don Sebastien is a thousand year old vampire, and private detective, who is also interested in the murders. But just being a vampire is illegal in New Amsterdam. Abigail Irene and Sebastien discover that they have to make hard choices to serve both justice and loyalty.
This is an intriguing alternate history, set in a Victorian era where magic and vampires exist, and hence history has played out somewhat differently. It is a "fixup" novel, with several episodes stitched together, but still making a coherent overall story. Each individual murder tale is interesting in its own right, but the overall path the characters take, as they have to decide where their loyalties truly lie, are the main point. It is another example of Bear's theme of characters trying to do the right thing having to make hard choices, always with the chance of getting things wrong, but also with the chance of being able to change as they grow (despite the cost).