Continuing our clearly groundbreaking series of chat-like reviews, John and JP discuss Karl Schroeder’s second Virga novel, Queen of Candesce.
Queen of Candesce is Karl Schroeder’s second Virga book and follows the hugely popular Sun of Suns. In it, Venera Fanning, last left sailing through the air-filled world of Virga, comes to Spyre, one of Virga’s oldest nations. Venera is fueled by revenge for the husband she presumes to be dead and with the powerful key of Candesce in her possession, she may just be powerful enough to change the face of Spyre forever.
John: Woo-hoo! Schroeder has finished the follow-up to his space pirate novel Sun of Suns. I was really looking forward to more space piracy in Queen of Candesce.
JP: Unfortunately for you, there is little space piracy here.
John: Agreed. It was off-putting that the story focused on Venera Fanning and only her.
JP: I didn’t mind it at all; I thought it was a nice change from the previous novel.
John: That was a real downer for me. I wanted to know about the other characters and the universe as well.
JP: Venera was the one character we didn’t know what happened to at the end of the previous book. And now we’re set up for an interesting conclusion.
John: To be fair, Schroeder does an excellent job quickly setting up Venera’s predicament in Chapter 1.
JP: I thought the whole ‘falling from the sky’ thing was done well.
John: Yes, that was cool…and a good way to (re)introduce the reader to the physics of Virga and their rotating, cylindrical worlds.
JP: I also like the additional info we get on how Virga was created and just how old it really is. I thought Spyre itself was cool too.
John: We get a few more glimpses and hints about the outside AIs that created Virga. Cool! Gimme more of that! And yes, there’s a real sense that Spyre is just falling apart.
JP: I’m not sure they are AIs the way you think they are. I think it’s a different take, given the little we know. But QoC really didn’t do much to further our understanding of the outside world.
JP: It’s basically the story of how Venera gains a rather large amount of power.
John: Let’s hope the next book deals with the origins head on.
JP: I’m sure it will. It will have to.
John: Since the book was devoted solely to Venera, the whole engagement level depended on believing her motivation (revenge). For as tough as Venera is supposed to be, I found her decisions to be questionable.
JP: I didn’t have a problem with her motivation.
John: Her first desire was to leave Spyre, but then she engaged in these seemingly pointless activities – acting as trader, posing as a long-lost mistress of a ruling family…lots of dilly-dallying with locals.
John: One could argue that these detours were to further her aim of getting home, but when she finally acquired the means to do so, her goal changed. She didn’t want to just go home; she also wanted to acquire even more power to exact her revenge on the Pilot of Slipstream.
JP: She is tough, just look at all the crap she had to deal with. But she’s also not an unsympathetic person. That’s why she didn’t leave the one chance she got.
JP: She also comes to realize she doesn’t have the power she needs to topple the Pilot so she attempts to gain more.
John: Yeah, yeah. To me, it just seemed like Venera’s supposed motivation (revenge against the Pilot who killed her husband) is undermined by her actions, which do not seem to logically lead to her goal.
John: It was as if she lost focus — as a result, I did too
JP: Well, at the end, she has a lot of power to hit the Pilot with. I see her ‘detours’ as you put it as character development.
John: Bah! She was already a good character. This weakened her.
John: I did like the Garth character. His is the voice of reason (or at least experience) in Spyre.
JP: I don’t agree. She’s more sympathetic now we know she cares about others too. She’s grown.
JP: I’d have to say the biggest negative for me was Spyre itself. I had a hard time trying to visualize how events took place on its surface. Especially the battles outside if it.
John: You mean the physics of it all?
JP: Sort of, more like how it would look. For example, the parachute sequences really didn’t come together well for me.
JP: I guess Spyre’s environment is too alien to easily grasp. For me anyway. I had to slog through those, trying to figure out what exactly was going on.
John: I wondered about the parachutes, too. If you jump from a spinning cylinder, you would go travel in a straight line tangential to the spin. If you then open a parachute, would you immediately come to a complete stop?
JP: Yeah, confusing
John: There were some hesitating moments of trying to picture the world — I chalked that up to being something so different from our own world
JP: Me too, but it bugged me
JP: Now that we are talking about Spyre, I thought Schroeder did a nice job of creating a unique, and ‘lived-in’ society that exists there.
John: It was nicely medieval
JP: All the in-fighting, and tiny nation states ruled over, literally, by the city at the center of the Spyre.
John: I loved the “run-down” feel of Spyre.
JP: Yup, the whole thing was cool.
JP: And then Venera comes in and upsets everything. Sort of a free radical.
JP: And Schroeder mixes some politics with his action. The story never really bogs down. Which makes Venera’s accomplishments seem to be a bit too easy. Her rise is very fast.
John: I could have used less politics.
JP: And you are a politics hater, so no surprise there.
John: I prefer political intrigue over politics. Fortunately there was some of that as well. But not enough pirates!
JP: Well, that is true. Venera could have become a pirate Princess, but Schroeder had other ideas. Namely, to write his own story.
John: Instead of the one I wanted to read? Pfft!
John: It is, of course, much easier to pick on the things I didn’t like than the things I did. Overall, the book was OK, but my expectations let me down.
John: I shouldn’t have brought any.
JP: Well, I think its ok to expect the second novel of a series to continue the overall story line.
John: But it didn’t — until the ending. The rest was a Venera-Only interlude
JP: Schroeder chose to focus solely on Venera for a reason, and it helps that it is a good story.
JP: I’d say 4/5 for me, with high hopes for the next one and some nice conflict with Slipstream and the Artificial Nature ‘guys’.
John: I give it a 2.5/5 — The story was serviceable, but I question Vanera’s motivation and was kept waiting for pirates.
John: Of course, what I REALLY want to see is the explanation of the world and what’s outside.
JP: You’ll get your wish, just in the next book.