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Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Empire of Light" by Gary Gibson (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Gary Gibson Website
Read FBC Review of Stealing Light
Read FBC Review of Nova War
Read FBC and Walker of Worlds Interview with Gary Gibson

INTRODUCTION: "Empire of Light" is the third and concluding novel in the Shoal series by Gary Gibson after the awesome Stealing Light (#2 sf and #4 sff overall in 2007) and excellent Nova War (#5 sf and #13 sff overall in 2009).

Empire of Light was a Top 10 2010 Anticipated novel of mine and it lived up to the high expectations as well as insuring that a new Gary Gibson novel - hopefully in 2011 but not sure as of now - will be another Top 10 Anticipated one.

While I have not yet managed to review the author's first two standalone novels Angel Stations and Against Gravity, both denser and packed to the hilt with great stuff, books that made the author a big time favorite of mine and the best new sf writer in a while, I hope to do it at some point since those two merit also the audience of the Shoal trilogy that brought Mr. Gibson the much deserved recognition.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Empire of Light" stands at almost 400 pages divided into 38 numbered chapters, the last one being an epilogue of the series. However there is a special Epilogue chapter set 3000 years in the future that sets up the hook for more stories set in the Shoal universe of the trilogy. The novel starts with a two page "previously in.." that may be helpful if you have read Nova War a while ago, but I strongly recommend to start the series from the beginning since it is essentially one big book divided into three parts.

Starting two years from the end of Nova War to essentially allow Dakota time to find the "Maker" and to let the *actual nova war* develop, "Empire of Light" recreates somewhat the structure of Stealing Light, when after preliminaries, it comes down to Dakota and Julian to save the day again on a starship in enemy territory, while Trader is still around for his usual mischief.

In addition to Dakota and Julian, there is one more POV who connects with the series beginning and the Uchidan engineered atrocity against Freehold.
Empire of Light is modern space opera with a definite ending to the Shoal trilogy, though as mentioned the hook is set for more action millenniums later...

ANALYSIS: "Empire of Light" builds on the two previous novels in the series to solve some of the big mysteries, most notably what are the mysterious Makers, why is is that simple for humans with head-implants to control Magi ships - or is it? and how do you stop a nova war that threatens to engulf the Milky Way, the way it essentially destroyed the Magellanic Galaxy.

In the process we visit quite a few places in our Galaxy, encounter new and old species and characters and we generally see why modern space opera reigns supreme in sf as the one sub-genre where sense of wonder is allowed the possibility to blossom to the fullest.

In addition to sense of wonder and lots of action, "Empire of Light" features the same powerful characters we got used to from the author. A mature and self-confident Julian takes on his dual role as Dakota's stand in for dealing with the Magi ships and as Freehold Senator with relish, while Dakota herself is changed quite dramatically by her experiences in chasing the Maker, though still remaining the larger-than-life heroine from earlier books. And of course the sneaky and nasty Trader is back and still up to no good, but even his extremely developed survival skills may be tested when he confronts the judgment of superior powers.

However I still think that the novel's greatest strength is the author's writing ability that carries the story with amazing energy and pulls you in from the first page. And here comes the one negative for me for the whole series, namely that I feel Gary Gibson undersells himself a bit; Stealing Light was awesome while Nova War and Empire of Light were excellent, but could have been even more ambitious and I truly wish to see a novel/series that packs the density of Angel Stations with the clarity and maturity of the Shoal trilogy.

"Empire of Light" (A+) is the conclusion of a new space opera trilogy that gives you pretty much the whole package within 1000 or so pages rather than the usual 3000+ and establishes Gary Gibson as a leading light of modern sf.


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