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on 9 August 2004
A worthy sequel to the Praxis.
The problems:
Williams needs to make his characters work harder for their victories. Gareth Martinez has it too easy. It seems that even the author has noticed - he starts talking about the 'Martinez luck'. There is never any doubt that Gareth will win each battle.
The ethical position of the protagonists is distinctly dodgy and never addressed. I don't want to reveal too much but towards the end the hero kills several million people. He has a slight moment of regret and then gets on with his life. I think - even in fiction - that genocide deserves a slightly deeper consideration.
The physics is even dodgier than the ethics. Now, I know that shouldn't matter too much in a space opera, but the series makes real play on the authenticity of the space travel:
Can you really perform a slingshot around a planet while travelling at relativistic (0.7c) velocities? I would have though you would have gone parabolic and whizzed past before gravity could even deflect you - let alone swing you round 180 degrees.
Does traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light really make you more manouvreable? If it takes a month to get up to that speed in one direction it should take a month to move at that speed in a different direction - you'll have travelled a million miles before you've changed your course an inch.
These problems call into question some of the innovations in tactics which lie at the heart of the plot.
The alien species are cartoon cutouts and thoroughly unimpressive. Little thought, little background - they are just humans with scales, fur, feathers, etc.
On the other hand, it moves at a zipping place; combines court intrigue with military action; successfully puts the lead characters through some interesting personal interactions; and keeps you coming back for more. I just don't think the author is trying hard enough or making the most of the background culture he has created.
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on 17 February 2004
The Sundering is the second volume of Walter Jon Williams' newest series, written around the lives of two engaging principals: Lord Gareth Martinez, the ambitious and extremely capable younger son of an enormously wealthy put hopelessly provincial family of Peers; and Lady Caroline Sula, the tormented street-child pulling off a galaxy-class con masquerading as the last surviving member of a disgraced line of Peers. As in the first volume, the action is set within that hoariest of all space opera clichés, the turbulent death-throes of a once all-powerful pan-galactic empire. What might have been just another cookie-cutter effort is instead a wild ride through space with the reader fully engaged in the lives, dreams, and perils of Lord Martinez and Lady Sula. Williams sticks with 'real' physics, forcing his characters to undergo long, punishing accelerations and requiring spaceships to follow ballistics and orbital mechanics. This isn't 'Hard' SF, but it's certainly working towards that. Williams won't force the numbers on you, but he never forgets that Physics are the ultimate player, and he never allows 'magical' performance from his spacecraft. Instead of resisting or wishing inconvenient forces away, he makes the constraints of physics a central driving force to the plot of this series. A refreshing change from the usual!
In the first volume, The Praxis, Williams has done a masterful job of setting the stage and setting the pieces into play. Now, we continue to follow the story as the action heats up and sparks (and missiles) start to really fly. Lord Martinez has become a hero of the Praxis, having managed to commandeer a warship right from under the nose of a massive and thoroughly-plotted conspiracy, and fight his way back to the capital with a skeleton crew. One of the few points of hope in the grim days following the attempted (and largely successful) coup, Martinez is decorated and placed in command of the vessel he commandeered, over the heads of many officers more senior. Further compounding their jealousies, he's placed in command of a light squadron on its way to reenforce a nearby system over a more senior officer. Balancing squadron jealousies and trying to shake his newly-assigned crew into shape, he's stunned to learn of the disastrous defeat that has essentially wiped-out the Home Fleet. Now, in addition to a demanding Commodore, a jealous 'subordinate', and a raw crew, Gareth must find a way to create new tactics that will spare the fleet the annihilation in the face of a superior foe and slavish adherence to hide-bound doctrines ossified in millennia of tradition. Gareth is called to lead his force back to the capital to protect it, but now there's an enemy fleet in his way...
Meanwhile, returning to the capital in a battered and nearly-dead cruiser not her own, Lady Sula is the sole survivor of her ship, and the only other bright spot of hope in the face of disaster and ruin. Part of a massive punitive raid against the traitorous Naxid fleet, Caroline watched helplessly from her pinnace as her ship, and most of the Home Fleet, was reduced to radioactive debris. The Praxis hasn't fought a real space war in over three millennia, and even then wasn't seriously challenged. Centuries of practicing the same drills over and over, with predetermined results guaranteeing the 'correct' outcome, has left the fleet unprepared to face a real conflict where both sides are equally equipped. In an orgy of incandescent mutual destruction, the loyalist and Naxid fleets consume each other in mad embrace. The Naxid fleet, however, is much larger, and while the Home Fleet is reduced to scrap, the Naxids have some resources left, and the capital is no longer protected. Only the patience and skills of Lady Sula allow the escape of any remnant of the home fleet, as she uses her carefully husbanded flight of missiles to punch a path open for their escape. Taking refuge in her communications with Gareth, where they discuss (at very long distance) Gareth's tactical innovations, and where Caroline adds her own distinctive flair and subtlety to the results, Lady Sula and Lord Gareth develop a growing intimacy. This time, Sula is determined that she will not flinch from him, and will make Martinez her own...
However, as always in any decent Opera, True Love does not follow the easy course, and Martinez and Sula will face the political maneuverings of the Family Martinez, its clients, and its sponsors, as well as the intrigues of the Convocation, and of the Navy as well. Looming over the entire tangled mess is the threat of the next move by the rebel Naxids, and the desperate need to find ships to reenforce the scratch fleet now defending the capitol. Professional jealousies and dogmatic superiors, disturbed by the sudden prominence of these two minor peers, throw further monkey wrenches into the works, and it seems the best chance of saving the Praxis may be lost to intrigue, jealousy, and myopia. The Naxids are coming, time is short, and events have taken on an irresistible momentum.
What will the lovers do? What will the Empire do? Read, and find out: You won't be sorry!
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on 28 December 2012
The Praxis introduced Martinez and Sula as characters from different backgrounds making a career and name for themselves in a space navy and empire reminiscent of 18th century British sea power. It worked well becasue although the characters were clearly fated for each other, they seldom got together for romance. The revolution got in the way. The plot raced along and the protagonists were likeable. However The Sundering started to fall apart early on for me because there was no sense of scale.

The capital planet has an orbital ring with eighty million people whom Sula, working for a logistics corps, has to relocate to the surface and then house and feed. One junior officer organising all this? Similarly the government, and presumably the civil service and support functions, considers relocating across star systems. But there is no mention of the general populace noticing or even being relevant to the plot. In fact everyday people scarcely get a mention unless they are valets or servants. One would be forgiven for thinking Zanshaa is a ghost world. The practicalities of blowing the eleven thousand year old ring, as a contingency against invasion, are skipped over by saying some old engineers had thought of it and put explosive charges in the construction.

Everything seems to revolve around a very small number of characters. It seems only they have good ideas, no matter how obvious. It may not have fought many wars, but a fifteen thousand year imperial navy must have some decent strategists. For a vast empire the space navy seems to be quite small. Twenty or thirty ships making the difference between victory and defeat. Contrast the old classic, Starship Troopers, where Heinlein discusses how companies can be spread across light years and one might never encounter one's commander. This one was not for me because it put the personal on the same level as the strategic.
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on 29 October 2009
This is the middle book in a trilogy, Dread Empires Fall. I read the first book, The Praxis, many years ago and only recently picked this up. It is an enjoyable lightweight space opera. The Dread Empire of the Shaa, an inscrutable but ruthless alien race, who lived by their code 'The Praxis', which exulted family, honour and tradition above all else, has fallen after 10,000 years, as the last of the Shaa has passed away on Zanshaa, the planetary capital of the Empire. One of the hitherto subservient races, the Naxxids, made a move for ultimate control. 'The Praxis' saw them opposed by a coalition of races, including humans, but initially unsuccessfully. This book sees two important victories over the Naxxids in space battles, the hero of which is Lord Gareth Martinez, a talented Captain from a low-ranking family. He is aided by Caroline Sula, who is the sole survivor of a high-ranking family but who has a 'Dark Secret': she is an impostor!. Both fall in love, then out of love as families and the war tear them apart. This book ends with the Naxxids occupying Zanshaa. Hopefully I will acquire and read the final volume before too long.
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on 6 June 2012
Fabulous writing if you love Space Operas - The best best Space Opera Trilogy out there in my opinion....excellent physics and tactical combat descriptions - vastly superior to "Lost Fleet" series or "Starks War". Please keep writing WJW!
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on 20 January 2004
It's that old story - Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, Huge spaceships throw missiles at each other, boy (hopefully!) gets girl again.
For a Williams book this is not a very ambitious book. It's not as high-concept or original as, say, Aristoi or Metropolitan. The characterisation isn't as good as in Days of Atonement. But there's a little bit of everything in here - interesting flawed characters, a love story, some cyberpunkish hacking, and a LOT of action, space-based or otherwise. There's even some comedy.
This is Williams' take on the genre of Military SF, in the tradition of Bojuld's Vorkosigan books. As usual in the genre, space navies take after the old british navy and ships are commanded by the aristocracy. Here, however, the navy hasn't fought a war for 3,000 years and the aristocracy bears a suspicious resemblance to the one described by P. G. Wodehouse in his Jeeves and Wooster stories. combine this with the Jane Austen-like love story and the realistic, relativistic space battles, and you have a very unique combination.
Speaking of space battles, they seem much more realistic than the one in the first installment.
This was a very pleasurable read, even though not a mind-blowing book. I'm waiting for the next book in the series - although I'd be much happier when some publisher finally picks up the Metropolitan books and lets Williams write the third one in that trilogy.
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on 10 December 2003
The premise behind this book is a bit "easy reading from an airport bookshop while on holiday".... and I was expecting it to be just that.
To be honest, after the first book, Praxis, I bought this one, and only ended up liking it even more. The primary characters are well written, but not intrusive, and the plot, while very simplistic, is still wonderfully executed.
I'm definitely putting him on my "buy as soon as new books available" list.
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on 28 May 2016
I have read this and the other two books in the series. What I like about the book is its nice and long so you can get into all the characters. I only wish there was a good follow on.
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on 31 August 2014
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