Nova War (Shoal) Paperback – 9 May 2013
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"Gibson stakes his claim to be considered alongside the leading triumvirate of British hard sf writers . . . "Nova War" is a gripping red and a treat for all fans of intelligent space opera." --"Guardian"
One woman and a terrifying secret stand between us and destruction.See all Product description
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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?
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!
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.
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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