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on 1 September 2009
Gary Gibson's 'Nova War' is the second part of the Shoal Sequence trilogy. Part One is Stealing Light. It doesn't make a lot of sense to read this without first having read Stealing Light.

It is a classic Space Opera, spanning the galaxy, leaping from spiral arm to spiral arm but, like it's predecessor, it really could have done with a bit more active editing - Gary Gibson's use of hyperbole and seriously over-the-top metaphor intrudes frequently and makes a gripping tale pretty hard going at times.

It starts slowly, if rather painfully, with the first hundred pages or so given over to the torture of our heroes Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso by the 'Bandati', a race of winged aliens with peculiar names (such as the Proustian 'Remembrance of Things Past') - clients of the Shoal, themselves a race of strangely named fish-like aliens who possess the secret of superluminal (i.e. faster than light) travel.

Once that is out of the way, the book really gets going. It expands into not just a story of a few humans faced with aliens, but a great political struggle between factions within the Shoal, rival Hive Queens within the Bandati and the arrival of the hilariously bloodthirsty, violent and fanatical rivals of the Shoal - the Emissaries.

Behind all this is the struggle for the possession of not only the Nova bomb technology but also the search for the Magi and the Makers. So - a wonderfully complex and devious plot.

The timeline is not straightforward, as the story jumps about, filling in details from the past. In particular, we find out the origins of the thoroughly nasty Hugh Moss. And that did come as a surprise, adding to the layers of plot and sub-plot. Great stuff!

Oh but... I really wish it had been edited a bit better. After reading some phrases three times or more (for example 'whoever - or whatever' with the 'what' italicised) and coming across 'millions' and then 'billions' and then 'trillions', and the occasion bizarre and jarring metaphor, I was getting a bit fed up. But, like the first volume in the trilogy, the story is strong enough to keep you hanging in there.

Finally, the conclusion, although not a cliff-hanger, leaves you wanting more. Yes, I will be getting the third volume - I need to know how this is going to end: I need to know what happens to Dakota Merrick, I need to know what happens to the Shoal member 'Trader in Animal Faecal Matter' ('Trader' for short, thank goodness!) and to the wonderfully egregious Hugh Moss - and I need to know about the Magi and the Makers.

This book is not only a ripping space yarn but sets the scene for a (hopefully) thrilling climax. Could we just cut back on the hyperbole please?
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on 22 February 2010
This rather unusually improves upon the first in the series Stealing Light. The writing is sparser: there is less unecessary detail and recapitulation . There are a variety of set-piece events all of which are decently done and move the plot along, which is not always the case in this genre.
The various "political" sub-plots are all tweaked and tested at various points and Gibson has kept a grip on who is doing what to whom and why.

The direction of travel looks good for an interesting finale!
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on 12 September 2009
The preceding volume to this one, Stealing Light, culminated in the human protagonists, Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso, fleeing an exploding star having discovered the dark secret that a superluminal drive could force a sun to go nova, making it a phenomenal weapon. They ended up in a system controlled by the Bandati, a race whose social organisation resembles that of insects, with Hives ruled by Queens.

It is at this point that Nova War takes up the story: Dakota and Lucas have been captured and extensively tortured by the Bandati, who want to know all they know about FTL travel Meanwhile, Shoal agent Trader-in-Faecal-Matter-to-Animals, is continuing in his efforts to prevent the spread of knowledge of the FTL secret, and preserve his race. His job is made more difficult, however, by the revelation that the Bandati have long had a Magi derelict of their own, and have been secretly in contact with the Emissaries, an aggressively expansionist race who also possess FTL technology, and with whom the Shoal have been fighting a secretive cold-war for centuries. With conflict occurring between rival Bandati Hives, suddenly Dakota and Lucas' knowledge of the Magi makes them valuable commodities, and they have no choice but to negotiate their way through a tangled web of treacherous alien agendas in order to find some way to protect the Human race, as the Shoal-Emissary conflict enters a new phase, and the purposes of the intelligent Magi starships become clearer, too.

Gibson's main strength, and his main interest, it seems, is in the description of aliens, and to a lesser extent, alien cultures (this was also a feature of his earlier novel, Angel Stations) - there's not the extensive and detailed development and explanation of advanced technologies that you get from Peter F. Hamilton, for example. So, to the piscine Shoal, he now adds the insectile Bandati, and the bizarrely elephantine Emissaries. He also seems to feel that he's given enough background, as there's almost none of the jumping about from past to present and back which was a major feature of Stealing Light, although he does alternate between the perspectives of Dakota, Lucas and, to a lesser extent, Trader and the other aliens. Both of the main protagonists are reasonably well-drawn, and you get a sense of their motivations and different perspectives. The aliens, though, don't seem that, well, alien in their motivations, with the possible exception of the Emissaries.

There's been some criticism of Gibson's writing style from other reviewers for being overblown, but I have to admit I didn't feel this was a problem, a bigger issue was the pacing of the story: after a slow beginning - which is not necessarily a weakness - there's an action packed centre, then events trail off, and grind to a halt, with a last flash of action at the end to whet the reader's appetite for the next volume. This can't help but make the book seem somewhat anticlimactic, and one gets the sense that more exciting developments are being saved for later. This feels a little contrived, but I'm not sufficiently annoyed to refuse to buy the next instalment out of pique.

To sum up, then, Nova War shows some of the signs of running out of steam that are a common fault with second volumes in a series, but still contains enough inventiveness to keep one's interest, and I'll be waiting to find out how Dakota's odyssey progresses.
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on 18 February 2011
Gary Gibson's "Nova War" is an exciting, gripping space-war novel that sparkles with credible science-fiction invention.

This was the first book by Gibson that I've read. It was very enjoyable so I'll definitely be buying more.

"Nova War" is the sequel to "Stealing Light", but Gibson fill in any gaps that you might need so that it reads well as a stand-alone novel in its own right.

The plot moves along apace with plenty of excitement along the way. The story-telling hops between different scenarios relating to the main four characters, following their differing paths until they converge for the finale. This is a well established and effective story-telling technique and Gibson uses it well in the main. However, occasionally, it feels a bit cumbersome as he flips back in the plot's time-line, causing the reader to just hesitate slightly in getting to an understanding of what's going on. Thankfully, this happens rarely enough for it not to affect the overall enjoyment.

A book worthy of other luminaries of the scene, such as Alastair Reynolds.
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Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso have recovered an alien spacecraft belonging to the enigmatic and long-extinct Magi. Possessing a functional FTL drive, the ship holds the key to freeing humanity from its dependency on the Shoal, hitherto believed to be the only race to possess the secret of superluminal travel. Unfortunately, Dakota and Luca are now 'guests' of the Bandati, another Shoal vassal species equally anxious to gain the secrets of the drive. As different factions of Bandati battle one another for access to the alien ship and the two humans who can pilot it, it becomes clear that the Shoal have been lying to their vassals for centuries about their abilities, for another race whose power rivals that of the Shoal are making their own play for the Magi vessel...

In the second volume of The Shoal Sequence, the ante is upped as various alien races and factions within those races (and within the human Consortium) attempt to seize control of the Magi ship, whilst Merrick and Corso, aware of the ship's ability to unleash devastation on a vast scale, struggle to stop it falling into the wrong hands. The result is a complex, many-sided struggle with our heroes caught in the middle, unsure of which faction to ally with.

Nova War is very much in the same vein as Stealing Light, with impressive action sequences bridging scenes featuring complex ethical dilemmas and some nicely-judged character-building moments, most notably as Dakota considers whether her unmatched ability to pilot the alien vessel could turn her into some kind of tyrant. The messy relationship between Dakota and Corso, who are on the same side but distrust one another's motives, is nicely developed and the story moves at a cracking pace, but some weaknesses remain. The new alien races, the airborne Bandati and the Emissaries of God (a race of psychotic space-elephants), are again not really that alien, whilst recurring bad guy Hugh Moss is starting to get a little annoying (although we finally learn why he is apparently indestructible). Dakota and Lucas again spend most of the book imprisoned in one form or another, which is frustrating, but made up for by the impressive (if rather rushed) climax.

Nova War (****) continues the Shoal Sequence trilogy in a readable and entertaining manner.
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on 26 November 2012
The first novel in the sequence was promisiing, and included many good ideas and a reasonable plot. Unfortunately this second book in the sequence is much weaker. The characterisation is bland, the plot not especially gripping .... Not only that, but an early section of the book revolves around an extended period of torture , which , frankly, becomes a bore to the reader long before its resolved.
Also, Gibson makes what ,for me, is a cardinal sin of cheeseness with one of the revelations about a particular villain not being the race he seemed... Its tacky and while it harks back to the early days of space opera, theres a good reasob you never see this kind of reveal in novels anymore.

Thats not to say the book doesnt have some better passages, and the first meeting with the emisary is particularly notable, but overall this novel disappoints, to the point where i 'm doubtful i'll pick up the third in the trilogy (a rare occurance for me).

For those looking for better work in the same galaxy wide genre, i'd recommend Alastair Reynolds, or Dan Worths progenitor series.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 21 September 2011
This is the second in this series, following on from Stealing Light. While this book continues the story of Corso and Dakota, some more of the backstory of Dakota, the Shoal and the earlier races becomes clearer. This is good for the continuity of the story and the series; however, I felt that there was quite a light of padding in this book - quite a lot of unnecessary descriptive digression that stole the flow of the story, and could easily have been removed from the page count without any loss to the impact of the story. A 568 page book could easily have been shorter and yet have left more of a lasting, positive impression.

The alien races are well characterised, but I keep getting left with a nagging feeling that they are fairly derivative from other books and sci-fi novels. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, the overall sense I am left with from this book, and the series so far, is `good, but not great'. That's a pity - I hope the final book in the series picks up and takes the story to a great level in its conclusion. Time will tell.
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on 28 September 2011
It's hard to write a review where so much has already been said so I won't bother saying too much now. This is book two in the Shoal Series and as such builds on from the first book, Empire of Light. The book is well written and keeps you wanting to read the next page: you just do not want to put it down. In this book, the story has moved on and we now find that the Shoal, the FTL-capable species from the first book are at war with another FTL species. There is a dark, or rather light, secret that threatens to tear the galaxy and possibly the universe apart. What will be the outcome...?
A better book than the first, but then it has more meat to the story so that helps. You would do yourself a favour if you bought this book.
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on 4 September 2009
Stealing Light came out in 2007 and was a book I really enjoyed. There's been a two year wait for the sequel, a long time in book terms, but after a strong first book and a title like Nova War it was always going to be a must read. I picked it up with great anticipation and was thoroughly pleased with what I found - Gary has moved from the more focused story of Stealing Light on to a widescreen look at the problems facing the species in the galaxy because of those events, all of which has made for some compulsive reading!

We start off pretty much where Stealing Light left us - Dakota Merrick and Lucas Corso are in a Bandati system and are their prisoners. The derelict Magi spaceship is being held, along with Dakota's ship the Piri Reis, by the Bandati in one of their secure stations in the system. Not only this, but with the rival Bandati factions drifting toward opposite sides in a dangerous and escalating war the stakes are being constantly raised. Add to this the fact that Trader, a member of the Shoal we know from Stealing Light, is behind some decisions and actions that will have a lasting effect on the galaxy. What Nova War does is give a story from the perspective of characters we know that are now in a dangerous situation that effects not only them, but the whole galaxy - and Gary does a damned good job of it.

Although the start is fairly slow paced, the scenes with Dakota, Trader and the Bandati show us that there is much going on in the background that we don't know yet. We get to find out the details along with Dakota and follow her as she takes whatever action she can to protect herself. The initial prisoner scenes were done very well and helped to show how vulnerable Dakota is, but also to show how her relationship with Derelict is developing and growing. This helps to put a lot in perspective and allows some hidden secrets to come out of the woodwork which in turn gets the pages turning all the quicker.

Another aspect I really enjoyed were the alien species and civilisations that are present. The Bandati are especially impressive and it appears that there is so much effort and thought gone into their creations - everything feels real and totally believable. The history that comes through the story raises more questions about the Bandati, the Shoal, the Emissaries and the Magi. With four strong species in this book I felt spoilt while reading it and never felt out of my depth when the action switched from one to the other.

Nova War is a great example of intelligent and thoughtful space opera that delivers a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read. As the second book in a series it builds very successfully on the foundation laid in Stealing Light and also gives plenty to carry through to the next book (which I just can't wait for!). For an enthralling widescreen space opera with characters and aliens that are both interesting and engrossing this is the books to read. Very highly recommended.
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on 6 July 2012
The second in the trilogy. Fast paced and a cracking story but the editing leaves a lot to be desired. The mixed tenses and clumsy writing continually pulled me out of the story.
A good read but occasionally annoying.
Published by Tor, they should pull their fingers out and spend a few quid on a decent editor. I now look with suspicion on anything Tor publish.
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