(Tor, $24.95, 304 pages, hardcover; published in March 2003.)
In the far future, there's a war brewing in an interstellar empire. The tyrannical RisenEmpire, ruled by a caste of scientifically created immortals with divine pretensions, is being undermined by the Rix, a terrorist group that worships sentient artificial intelligences.
Scott Westerfeld's fourth novel, The Risen Empire, is the first of a two-book series called Succession. It's a space opera played on a grand stage against an admirably complex political backdrop, but the execution doesn't do the premise justice.
The Risen Empire borrows too transparently from George Lucas's Star Wars and, to a lesser degree, Frank Herbert's Dune, giving this enterprise a much too familiar aura. Westerfeld's previous novel, Evolution's Darling, also wore its influences on its sleeve, but in that case Westerfeld seemed to be striving for a bold new synthesis, while in The Risen Empire it feels like he's using second-hand ideas.
This new novel reads more like an outline than a finished book. The characters and relationships are purely functional, and thus often unbelievable. This functionality is emphasized by Westerfeld's choice to title sub-chapters after the focus character's role (Captain, Senator, and so on). The prose is sober and colourless to a fault, describing in a flat monotone and in minute detail an endless series of military operations.
The result is a cold and uninvolving read, bereft of emotion and excitement. The Risen Empire's plot structure is all too transparent, driven by too many contrived cliffhangers. In fact, the book ends on a cliffhanger.
Westerfeld's world is carefully imagined, but his purpose remains, at best, vague. This whole novel ends up feeling like nothing more than a prologue, but not one enticing enough to make this reader want to stick around for the main feature.
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© Claude Lalumière 19 July 2003, 20 September 2003