Tor | 2018 (18 October) | 316p | Bought copy | Buy the book
It’s time to return to the Interdependency… thank the stars for that. The Consuming Fire follows directly on from The Collapsing Empire and is the middle book in what I believe will be a trilogy. You really wouldn’t want to read it without having read the opening book and so this review assumes that you’ve done just that and don’t mind learning a little of what has gone before.
Humanity’s vast empire, the Interdependency, is connected by the Flow, rivers through space that link random planets. Starships that are able to generate a protective bubble can travel through the Flow at unbelievable and erratic speeds. But should that bubble fail or if the Flow should collapse, then that ship and its crew would be cast out into the vast void of empty space, never to have contact with any other life again. It’s a terrible fate and now it is one that everyone in the Interdependency must face. There are signs that the Flow is beginning to fail. When it does, colonies that have no means to support self-sustained life will be cut off. This happened over a thousand years ago to Earth, the homeland that is now forever unreachable and barely a memory. The ruler of the empire, Emperox Grayland II, has a mighty struggle on her hands to hold everything together as rivalries amongst the empire’s mighty industrial families raise their ugly heads. War threatens just as the Flow begins to change.
I am a huge fan of John Scalzi, such a witty, clever author with an incredible imagination, and I absolutely adored The Collapsing Empire (as I did Lock In and Head On). I couldn’t wait to read The Consuming Fire and it really delivers on what went before. It’s a relatively short novel of just over 300 pages and it’s fast, sharp, fun and packed with thrills as well as characters who stand out a mile, not least because some of them are a little bit naughty, especially the women.
The Consuming Fire picks up a fantastic plot, set against the most brilliantly developed backdrop – the whole future of humanity is under threat and it’s making everybody go wild, especially the rich families that dominate this universe along with the powerful, yet secular church. Despite the role of religion – the Emperox role has its origins in a figure known for her visions sparking off this new faith – this is a society built on solid ground – trade, industry, money, ambition, greed. When Grayland II announces that she’s had visions which predict the calamitous collapse of the Flow, nobody knows how to deal with it. Except with violence and intrigue. I loved this mix of the practical and the spiritual, or the way in which religion has been adapted to fit a greedy society and vice versa. It is an aristocratic society. Everybody seems to be a lord or a lady but there’s nothing that honourable about the majority of them. Yet there is still a nobility here, especially in the figures of the Emperox and the scientist Marce.
And then there’s Kiva. Kiva was the dominating personality of The Collapsing Empire and she does the same here, although she does have competition. But Kiva is outrageous, hilarious and horny. She’s also dangerous. Although could it be possible that there are signs of a heart beating underneath all of that bravado?
The novel is too fast and furious to allow much time to develop our sense of wonder at some of the elements that have the potential to stun in this universe, but there are little glimmers of it, particularly during the second half when we see beyond the Interdependency. These sections are especially brilliant.
I am so desperate to know what is going to happen and there are some enticing hints of it here. The Consuming Fire does have a bit of a middle novel feel about it. It prepares ground for book three – and in such a way that I cannot wait for it! – but it also moves the story along in such thrilling, page-turning fashion. I have to say that I wish it were longer but what there is is golden. Roll on book three!