(Gollancz, £10.99, 409 pages, trade paperback, also available
in hardback priced £17.99, published 5 December 2002. Mass market
paperback: Gollancz, £6.99, 504 pages, 20 May 2004.)
Two hundred years after Owen Deathstalker and his superhuman companions
saved the Empire of Humanity and inaugurated a Golden Age, life is good.
The Empire is bigger than it was, safer and more stable. The deranged
Tyrant, Empress Lionstone, is dead, replaced by a benevolent constitutional
monarchy under the just and righteous House Campbell, assisted by a
business-like parliament. Clones, Espers and Aliens, once despised and
hunted, are fellow citizens, and the feared AIs of Shub are now Humanity's
helpmeets and dogsbodies. Why, even the gladiators in the Arena, fighting
for the amusement of the baying crowds, almost never die any more (Regen
technology has come on nicely).
Standing at the forefront of the new, enlightened Imperial Society
are the Paragons. Fearless law-enforcers, staunch and incorruptible,
they spend their time hunting down the few remaining dregs of the former
corrupt order: Aristocratic diehards, Anarchist hoodlums, Rogue espers...
It's a dirty job, but their problems are a mere pin-prick when compared
to past iniquities... First among the Paragons stand Lewis Deathstalker,
and Finn Durandel, responsible for peace and security on the Capital
world of Logres, two shining knights of Truth and Justice...
Well, obviously it's all going to end in tears, isn't it?
As the Greeks were fond of saying, "Character is fate." At the root
of the steady disintegration of this Golden Age is personality, and
personal weaknesses. The accession of a new King, Douglas Campbell,
third of his line, marks an opportunity to name a new Champion of the
Empire. Who will it be? Lewis Deathstalker and Finn Durandel are the
obvious contenders, and both good friends to the King. Suffice it to
say that the one who doesn't get it is mightily irritated and in a colossal
fit of pique, decides to bring the whole Empire crashing down.
He is aided in this endeavour by a positively Arthurian love triangle,
which blows up between the King, his Queen-to-be, Jessamine Flowers,
and his Champion. Before one knows where one is there are riots in the
streets, murders in cathedrals, conspiracies, character assassinations,
and to top it all, The Terror, the great pan-galactic extra-dimensional
horror which Owen Deathstalker lured away from the Empire two centuries
before, decides it's time to come back and start snacking on whole planets...
Pretty quickly Green whittles down his protagonists, until we're left
with a small and doughty band, pitted against a foundering Empire and
Superhuman Evil, setting off in a fast ship on a wing and a prayer to
save Humanity once again!
Green's novels would be laughable, if they weren't so... laughable.
Well, seriously, their saving grace is their considerable and pleasantly
consistent humour. It's a tough, cheeky, cynical humour, endlessly wise
to the foibles of the high and mighty, the celebrity vanities of the
rich and famous. It's a media-hip humour, cheerfully imagining a future
which mingles the worst elements of Hollywood and the gossip magazines.
Of course the plots are ridiculous! Green writes some of the most schlock
space opera in the genre, wonderfully realised in the self-parodying
cover art, which has reached a new but perfectly appropriate low in
the cheesiest possible style of Buck Rogers 1930s Sci-Fi...
But, who gives a damn? It works. At times it works magnificently.
There's even a sneaking suspicion that Green's latest hero has a touch
of real depth... certainly a few moments of pathos gleam through the
blood and guts and derring-do. It's completely non-credible, but it's
fun, it's frenetic, and it's a barrel of laughs. Doubtless not to everyone's
taste, but I can't wait for the next one. Heartily recommended.
Review by Simeon Shoul.
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