Don’t start here! This is the second in a superbly constructed sci-fi series, stacked with multiple meshed threads from ideologically estranged offshoots of future humanity. I waited eagerly for it to arrive after consuming the first part in short order, but you need to begin at the beginning to stand a chance of keeping up with the swift scene changes between the extensive cast of characters. It’s worth the investment, honest. Go seek out The Cruel Stars and then you’ll thank me.
Any sci-fi enthusiast will feel right at home with author John Birmingham’s affectionate accolades to genre classics: these are not the droids you’re looking for, but you can’t fail to observe the references to the worlds of Larry Niven, Iain M Banks and Alastair Reynolds. The deliciously supercilious Intellect, Herodotus, who has a habit of transporting his enemies into the heart of a passing star, could be any Ship Mind from the Culture. There are even a couple of starships named Defiant and Enterprise, fer gawshsakes.
Not that this is a complaint, you understand: the author’s universe feels comfortably familiar and you can rapidly assimilate the technological situation which frees up your attention to deal with the increasingly complex action.
And then there’s the Sturm, seriously nasty space fascists. Star-spanning space battles on a glorious scale. Intimate, delicate moments of galactic importance. The creeping, insidious brain-washing of a broken man. Unpredictable, savage violence and strikingly emotive snapshots of sacrifice. It’s almost everything I want from space-opera, even if there’s precious little that’s actually original.
One word of warning: you may find an older Scottish character to be extremely irritating. I did. But stick with him; even the corny accent is worth the payoff in the end.
Best of all, there’s a final part of the trilogy to come so we’ve all got something to look forward to…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham is available at Amazon
Killer crime fiction from Frank Westworth: