Book Review: The Golden Princess

GoldenPrincessGoldenPrincessby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Golden Princess
by S.M. Stirling
Roc, 420 pp.

Even though this is book number fourteen in the Emberverse series and picks up a few hours after the events of A Given Sacrifice, The Golden Princess is the beginning of a new story arc. We’re now following the third generation of people that populate the world after the Change stopped all technology and firearms from working. Even if you haven’t read any of the previous books, this is a fine starting point; new and established characters, as well as the setting are all clearly introduced in the opening chapters.

Almost immediately, we learn one thing—the world is getting bigger. In previous installments we had seen the Kingdom of Montival spread to cover about half of North America and we had learned the fate of the British Isles. Now Stirling moves to the other side of the globe, introducing characters from Japan, Korea, and Australia and even briefly mentions how things are looking in India.

Sadly though, the story is greatly lacking in plot developments. Right away we learn that the same evil forces that had driven the Cutters in previous books are also controlling Korea and that the Japanese Emperor and his daughter have come to Montival in search of an ancient sword that they’ve seen in their dreams. And then Stirling spends 420 pages in planning an expedition to retrieve the sword—it’s in Death Valley and our heroes will have to travel through the cannibal-infested remains of Los Angeles to get there.

It’s fascinating to watch post-Change Japanese interacting with the Kingdom of Montival, and as a fan of the series I found this to be an enjoyable read, but I really wish that something could have actually happened. That said, I’m sure the next book will be freaking amazing.

 

Book Review: The Given Sacrifice

TheGivenSacrificeby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Given Sacrifice
by S.M. Stirling
Roc Hardcover, 369 pp.

The Given Sacrifice concludes Stirling’s current story arc set within his Emberverse; it’s the tenth book in the series as a whole and the seventh book in the current arc (thirteenth and tenth, respectively, if you choose to count the Nantucket series). He’s also laid the groundwork for a new series set in the Emberverse that kicks off later this year (The Golden Princess) but more on that later.

Fans of the series know by now to expect a grand conclusion to the Cutter’s War, and you get it. No punches are pulled, and we get to see more of all of our favorite characters. It’s no surprise (it’s in the title!) that a major character has to die before the end of the novel—Stirling’s been laying the groundwork for this particular sacrifice since Book One, way back in 2004—and the sacrifice does indeed come about, but not in the way that I expected. So, kudos to Stirling for giving us something unexpected and even managing to pull off a happy ending.

Given Sacrifice does not in any way make for a good starting point for the series; the story draws on way too much accumulated history and character development to make it easily accessible to a new reader. But it’s one of the best series finales I’ve read in a long time. If you haven’t yet, I recommend picking up the whole series.

All in all… excellent closure, great action, fun characters, more of a well-conceived world, and an ending that leaves room for the story to develop into new and exciting directions in the next series.

 

Book Review: Conquistador

Conquistadorby Michael D. Pederson

 

Conquistador
S.M. Stirling
Roc, 424 pp.

In 1946, John Rolfe returns home to Oakland from the war. One malfunctioning short wave radio later and he has a doorway to another America, an America that has never been discovered by Europeans. Rolfe calls in his war buddies and proceeds to settle what he calls New Virginia (yes, he’s descended from those Rolfes). Cut to the year 2009 where our hero—Tom Christiansen, a big blonde farmboy and game warden—has tracked a warehouse full of poached pelts and some unusual condors back to John Rolfe and his family. This, of course, leads to Christiansen and his partner being abducted to New Virginia where they become embroiled in a coup by radical New Virginians attempting to overthrow the Rolfe family. There are no real surprises in the story but it’s well told and the descriptions of an untainted California can’t help but make the reader lust for a west coast that hasn’t existed for 200 years. And the weird mix of fascist police state and Ozzie and Harriet wonderland that Rolfe has created on his blank slate America leaves one wondering just what they would do in a similar situation. In the end, Stirling proves that he’s still as capable of putting out damn fine alternate universe stories as ever.