Kevin J. Anderson, |
The Saga of Seven Suns #1:
Kevin J. Anderson's Hidden Empire, the first book in The Saga of Seven Suns, requires a certain level of commitment from the reader, but one's patience and focus is well rewarded by a thrilling, almost intoxicating reading experience. This is a true space epic in every sense of the word, encompassing several alien races, all manner of strikingly different planets and a huge number of important characters. Just this first book alone is rather lengthy, and the opening 200 pages can be a bit of a test. While each chapter is relatively short, Anderson constantly switches point of view from one character to another. I initially had a hard time remembering who certain characters were and how they fit into the overall picture.
I imagine that some readers might be tempted to lay this book aside during this crucial and lengthy introductory phase, but those who do so will miss out on an incredibly gripping story that represents all of the best things about science fiction. To his credit, Anderson does include an appendix featuring a chronology of events and pertinent rulers as well as a glossary of important terms and people.
About a third of the way through Hidden Empire, everything started to click for me; all of these very different characters who had remained elusive in my imagination began to really emerge in my consciousness. My doubts now fully allayed, I found myself completely fascinated and personally involved as dire events began to play out before my very eyes. On more than one occasion, I uttered an audible "Oh no" when a sudden plot twist hit me like a linebacker blindsiding an unprotected quarterback.
Any plot summary I write cannot possibly do justice to this epic, but I will try to state a few overarching features of the novel. In the early 23rd century, Earth began colonizing its corner of the galaxy, and one such colonization ship was eventually discovered by the Ildiran Empire, the only other known major civilization in the Spiral Arm of the galaxy. Ildiran is eternally lit by seven suns, and this ancient civilization's history is recorded in the massive Book of Seven Suns, a continuously growing saga that the most fervent student could never possibly read in the space of one lifetime. Earth and her colonies form the Terran Hanseatic League, and they seek to expand while their mysterious Ildiran allies care more about the past than the future.
Ildiran is led by a Mage-Imperator who, through the mysterious force of thism, can see inside the minds of all his people; the Hansa League is represented by a king, but true power lies in the shadows behind the throne. A few disparate groups do seek to maintain their independence. The Roamers live a nomadic life, thriving economically by supplying the precious stardrive fuel the two major civilizations require for space travel. Then there are the Therons; theirs is a civilization devoted to the care of the vast and semi-sentient worldforest, the ultimate organic collective of universal knowledge. The green priests of Theroc take on a crucial role in this story, as they can communicate instantly across vast distances of space through the worldtrees they raise and tend to on other planets.
The most mysterious people of all are the extinct Klikiss race. Almost nothing is known of this long-gone alien superpower, but the discovery of some of their technology basically sets the events of this story in motion. Using a Klikiss Torch, the Hansa League turns a gas giant planet into a star, thereby making distant moons of the new sun capable of sustaining human colonies. Unfortunately, an unknown race of mysterious and mindbogglingly deadly aliens live in the pressurized depths of gas giants and do not take kindly to having one of their worlds destroyed. They don't ask questions; they just start sending up ships to destroy anything and everything around their home planets. Suddenly, the galaxy is at war, and Hidden Empire becomes much too exciting to even dream of putting down. Neither the Hansa League nor the Ildiran Empire is exactly what it seems, and this makes for some startling revelations as the book winds toward its conclusion. With the action definitely heated up, all manner of familiar characters caught up in events they can barely come to terms with, and the dark and mysterious game plans of different characters offering one dire surprise after another, this novel that seemed so long in the early chapters suddenly became all too short.
Casual science fiction fans may not have the patience to stick with this panoramic epic long enough to get hooked, but those who love space epics of the grandest style will find much to jump up and down about in this first entry in the series.