BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Boss, a loner who salvages derelict space vessels from humanity’s past, explores a planetside anomaly that may be associated with ancient (and forgotten) “stealth technology”.
PROS: The central mystery is a solid hook that keeps reader interest up throughout the novel; Rusch’s attention to detail helps flesh out the main character and her surrounding world even more than the previous novel.
CONS: Pacing issues, somewhat alleviated by prose that’s easily digestible and quickly read.
BOTTOM LINE: An enticing mystery surrounded by nicely added details.
City of Ruins is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s follow-up novel to 2009’s excellent Diving Into the Wreck. It continues the story of the unnamed character referred to as “Boss”, a tough-minded wreck diver who salvages derelict space vessels for their historical value. In the first book, Boss discovers a derelict Dignity Vessel, an ancient ship that cannot possibly exist in that part of space. That’s where she first encountered the mysterious “stealth tech”, a treasure that, although known to be dangerous yet not completely understood, is beyond value and threatens the uneasy relationship between the Empire and the less-lawful outer planets.
Since the events of the first book, Boss has built up a wreck diving team to find and salvage even more of the ships from humanity’s far-flung past, ever-hunting for the mysterious stealth with the ultimate hope of restoring a balance of power between the Empire and outer planets. In City of Ruins, Boss and her team come to investigate a planetside anomaly that just may be associated with stealth tech. What Boss and her team find is way more than they hoped for – and something that just might, if they are not careful, bring the unwanted attention of the Empire.
In terms of plot, the mystery behind the planetside anomalies — the sudden appearance of “death holes” that have claimed the lives of more than a dozen archaeologists — is a solid hook that will easily carry the reader through the novel. Boss treats the investigation like any other dive: with careful slowness and due diligence. Therein lays the book’s only detriment. There are periods of the story that seem to go on too long, usually explained away as the explorers being meticulous and very careful. Granted, the stealth tech has proven itself to be deadly and caution is more than warranted, but the more notable parts of the book (the cool, world-changing discovery beneath the city of Vaycehn, the catastrophe that befalls the team, finally meeting the characters from the alternating viewpoint plot thread, and the final scenes) are separated by periods where not much happens. To be clear, the author’s smooth and clear writing makes those passages fly by in real time, but in terms of story time, it feels like things are on the verge of happening more than they actually occur.
The merits of the book make up for that shortcoming. Besides the aforementioned hook of the central mystery, there is attention to detail that helps give the book more substance. In terms of world building, this translates to two items of interest: painting the society of Vaycehn as one where women are second class citizens, and an overall state of human progress that is actually less advanced than prior civilizations (implying that some sort of technological regression occurred sometime within the past five thousand years). In terms of character development, Rusch wonderfully depicts the discomfort of Boss, a loner who is most comfortable in weightless space, who is now working with a whole team of people underneath a planetside city. Her discomfort is palpable. Taken together, this attention to detail gibes the story a more interesting texture.
In the end, City of Ruins is a solid mystery (with a dash of adventure) whose ending teases even greater things in the next novel, Boneyards. Sign me up.