Before I say anything else, I have a plea just in case the author reads this review:
Please, PLEASE write a prequel of some kind. It doesn’t have to be long, a novella will do nicely, but give us some insight into the time Meany & Blackie (yes I’m bad with names, ESPECIALLY the names in this series so I’m shortening them all) spent together training, maybe even a bit right before the mutiny. I’ll explain why further down but even if you don’t read that, just know that such a thin tie-in would cover over so many problems with this series.
So after much anticipation (by both fans), John C Wright finally released the Judge of Ages, the 3rd book in his current novel series. I have to admit that this series is genius as it covers SO much, with SO many possible threads and people that the entire thing could be milked for generations by the author and loyal fanfic writers. Prequels and sequels and midquels… the sky really is the limit for all that could be written related to the world of this story, and it is to the author’s credit we end up wanting to see these other tales almost as much as we want to see the next book in the series.
Now if you read my review of the previous book you’ll know I was not thrilled with the ending. Thankfully I can say today that all is forgiven. While this book also ends on a cliffhanger, it ends on a proper cliffhanger, one you can at least endure while waiting for book 4. So now I can say without reservation: go pick up book 2, AND #3 at the same time – because you WILL need to read them back to back. They aren’t just parts of the same overall story, but two halves of one part of the overall story. Perhaps someday we’ll see both printed together in a form massive enough to club zombies with but until then, you’ll just have to make do with manual joining.
So what is this book about? Go click on the link above and read the review of the previous book. This book is all about tying up the threads and concluding book 2. Though I will warn that large sections of the book are taken up by extensive descriptors of the surroundings and people. Yes, the previous two had those as well but it can get frustrating at times in this one more so as you long to know what the next move is between the players of the drama only to feel like everything has been put on pause so they can paint the scene. Of course the narrative needs to paint the scene, but like I said, it can feel annoying. In fact, at times I think the narrative may work a lot better in a more visual medium, although some of the scenes mean we’ll probably never see Hollywood put it on TV or movie until long after we’re dead. I would like to see it in comic book form. Heck give the artist a two page spread to display some of the massive visuals demanded (and they would warrant a 2-page spread) and you could probably condense each of these novels into a standard trade paperback. Of course I’ll admit that part of this wish as selfish as my mind’s eye kept blinking to the point I lost threads of the story I knew I shouldn’t have, and I think a comic would aid weaker readers like myself.
All in all I’d rank it about a… 3.5 out of 5 on its own, with a 4-5 for both books together as a whole. Any complaints will involve heavy spoilers so those will be below the book image. As always, you can click the image to get yourself a copy of it. More than a few points in the story are so awesome, your mind’s eye will melt from the image of it, it’s definitely worth the price of admissions.
There is a debate going out there on the web in some places between “blue” and “pink” scifi/fantasy. Don’t worry about searching for details on this, I’ll save you the trouble: it’s pretty much an argument between “plot” stories and “character” stories. It’s gotten the “blue/pink” labels because, as so often in life, a lot of it breaks down along gendered lines. The masculine has a tendency to forgive character problems if the plot of a story is sufficiently awesome. The feminine has a tendency to forgive plot problems if the characters of a story are sufficiently compelling. Of course that’s just the way to bet, as always in life, all generalizations are false (including this one) so it’s easy to find plots awesome enough to wow even girls, or characters so magnetic even boys like watching them. There’s nothing wrong with having a preference one way or another and indeed we see that often the very best of the genre blend the “blue” and “pink” together in idealized balance. But let me stress again: there’s nothing wrong with you preferring one style or the other, and there’s nothing wrong with other people preferring the converse style. Let the muses rain down all styles from the authors’ pens and let us each enjoy that which pleases our taste.
Now this book series of Mr Wright’s is a heavily blue one (so far) with flashes of pink throughout, but none more so than in the 2nd & 3rd book. See, I would call John’s Chaos Children trilogy to be, in my taste, the most perfect blend of plot & character in a genre story I’ve seen in a long, long time. The plot was mind breaking while the characters sucked you in and made you love them. This book had two major flaws in both styles.
Well actually I’ll admit that the flaw in plot could very well be with me and I’ll need to go back and examine the story closer to confirm, but at the end, it was revealed that a great meteor strike on the earth had been a plan of the Swans to blind both Blackie and Meany. However in book 2 it seemed that the meteor falling was the key for Meany to invent the virus that ends up creating the Swans in the first place. So without the Swans, there’s no meteor, but without the meteor, there’s no Swans and… like I said, it could be a fault of mine. UPDATE: Ok, I found where it all linked together. Of course given that everything about this world is told in non-linear fashion, involving things of murky distinction like generations and species, your brain will get a workout trying to put everything together. That’s why some of us are working on wiki.
Now character wise… in general this isn’t a problem for the author and indeed many of the characters will stick in your mind. I love Mickey the Witch as he utilizes the trope I’m so fond of: “Right but for the Wrong Reasons” while the “Old Man” is probably my favorite of the sidekicks and his era the one I’m most interested in seeing. He’s the one I kind of most want to see journey with Meany & Blackie. But there are other characters, especially the “bookend” ones (those from the earliest and latest periods of history – except for Sir Guy & the Giant) which you’ll find yourself forgetting even though they end up being as important as anyone else. Still, the biggest problem of the story remains: the antagonist.
See the entire series (except for one very notable exception) is written in third-person limited: from Meany’s perspective. Nothing wrong with that, it works great for countless stories. The slight catch is that Meany has just a bit of unreliable narrator to him. In his case, he is very much a passionate man who never does anything half-measure, including his esteem or loathing of people. In general this isn’t a bad thing as we see the other characters about and so can contrast what they are really like against Meany’s views of them (it’s even one of the great pleasures of reading). The EXCEPTION to this is, of course, the antagonist, Blackie. He is almost never on screen which means the ONLY knowledge we ever have of him is from the viewpoint character’s usual exaggeration. While we can usually figure out how much salt to add to Meany’s claims from the surroundings, in this case we have no real frame of reference. For instance in several places Meany calls Blackie wicked and pure evil etc. On the one hand, we see Blackie demonstrate some sense of honor and faith and friendship and fidelity and some other positive traits which one can never imagine the likes of Darth Vader or the Joker demonstrating. On the other hand, Blackie really does things through the story that make Hitler look like a jaywalker. So the story ends up with the see-saw sensation of Meany’s words being understatements then exaggerations. It also has the misfortune of a few places feeling like they’re telling us more than showing us things we need to be shown. The worst example is during the jellyfish scene, where Blackie has his enemy dead to rights, then stops. It feels like an effort by the author to save the protagonist, although there’s a nagging sensation that it isn’t and should be in character for the villain. But without seeing more about the villain the reader feels like they’re being lied to.
(another example would be when it’s revealed that they tried baiting Meany with a clone of his wife. it’s in character for Meany to reject it, but why would Blackie? especially given his history with Rania and the things we see him capable of, we don’t have a sense that he would really be that picky over a copy. i could still see him continuing to fight Meany because of pride and grudges, but not really being that scrupulous about his woman.)
This is why I say a small prequel, showing us Meany & Blackie training together and becoming friends, giving us a bit more insight and actually showing us the forging of the bonds of their friendship would greatly strengthen this series. Then again with the promised cliffhanger, we might end up with a lot of on screen time with Blackie in the next book. I can only hope so as, like so many movies, the series to this point rests largely on the back of its villain, and the villain is currently the weakest character of them all.