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REVIEW: Context by John Meaney

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun, fast-moving story once you get used to the staccato writing style.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ex-noble Tom Corcorigan searches for a lost love while learning of a new, worldwide threat known as The Blight that threatens the vast, underground socitey


PROS: Great world-building; excellent action sequences; a quick read once you get used to the writing style.

CONS: Tom’s half-hearted attempts to find Elva; a slower read if you are not used to the writing style.

BOTTOM LINE: A sequel as satisfying as the original.

Context by John Meaney is book two of the Nulapeiron Sequence and continues the story of Tom Corcorigan whose rise to nobility from a mere commoner was chronicled in Paradox.

In Context, having renounced his power and having been fatally wounded, Tom seeks the help of a mysterious Oracle whose seer powers are the guiding force of the planet Nulapeiron’s hierarchical society. The people of the isolated Nulapeiron live in vast underground cities where social status is tied to the level of residence; the lower levels house the poor and the upper levels are home to Lords and Ladies who use the Oracles to maintain their power. In the presence of an Oracle, Tom suffers a great loss. He is thus thrown into a desperate (sort of) search for a lost loved one as he encounters a new, planet-wide threat known as the Blight.

It has been several of months since I read Paradox and the two things I remember about it are the fantastic world building and the staccato writing style. Both of these characteristics remain unchanged for Context.

The world of Nulapeiron is fascinating. The depiction of social status throughout the different demesnes – a concept interesting in and of itself – is very well done. And, as Tom travels from region to region, we see even more of the vast, complex society. Each territory is another world-let within the even bigger social structure of the planet, and each territory offers another adventure.

Context book uses the same staccato writing style of Paradox. And again, this is a double-edged sword. One the one hand, it allows the story to whip along incredibly fast. No time is wasted describing something that does not advance the story. On the other hand, the writing style, which sometimes yielded verb-less sentences, tended to slow down reading. However, since I was expecting this, I was better prepared than the first book. Essentially, I learned that this book had to be read a certain way to maximize its enjoyment. The style suited itself best to the well-written action sequences, like when Tom is undergoing torture in a dungeon (one of several times he takes a beating) or battling an army of the Blight.

The characters populating the book, with a handful of exceptions, are somewhat two dimensional, yet it somehow suited the pace of the story. Perhaps this was another side effect of the writing style but no lengthy character backgrounds were given, nor were they necessary. Tom’s relationships with other characters are fleeting, adding to the difficulty and drama of his quest.

Tom’s search to find his beloved Elva – whose memories are instantaneously transferred to someone else at the time of unexpected suicide – is supposed to be the driving plot force as Tom travels through all of the different territories. But somehow, it seemed like Tom was not trying too hard. Months pass without Tom making any active effort to find her. Simultaneously we are treated (as in Paradox) to another series of flashbacks of the mysterious Pilots. This time it is the story of Ro, daughter of Pilots Kathy McNamara and Dart. We are also treated to the discovery of the evil force of The Blight, whose presence is accompanied by “dark fire”. It wasn’t always clear to me that Tom was all that interested in finding Elva. Thankfully, the ending is a very satisfying combination of Tom’s search, the Blight and the story of Ro.

Overall, I found Context to be as equally enjoyable as Paradox; if you liked one, you’ll like the other.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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