Warning: Review contains minor spoilers for the first two books, though nothing not mentioned in the publisher’s blurb.
Pirate Sun is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. You probably don’t need to read the previous two books (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce) to enjoy Pirate Sun, but the story will make a little more sense if you do. In Sun of Suns we learned of Virga, the huge balloon like structure near the star Vega that contains its own little universe with man-made suns and planets that are often constructed of metal, gears, and cables in a wild steampunk style. Virga’s inhabitants don’t realize they’ve been closed off from the rest of the universe; most think Virga is all there is. Outside lurk mysterious AIs that are eager to break into Virga. We know hardly anything about them so far, and we don’t even know whether other humans still exist outside Virga.
In Sun of Suns we also met Chaison Fanning, the admiral of the nation of Slipstream which wanders through Virga tethered to a resource-rich asteroid. There are political plots at play in Slipstream and at the end of the book, Chaison, his scheming wife Venera, and a roguish spaceship captain named Hayden Griffin, were in the thick of it and it wasn’t clear what happened to them after they attempted a dangerous mission to use a coveted key to temporarily shut down Candesce, the big artificial sun that most of people of Virga rely on for light and heat. In Queen of Candesce we learned what happened to Venera (she lives!) and that the big sun may have another even more important property — its radiation, which prevents the development of higher technologies in Virga, may also be keeping out the AIs who want to invade. At the end of Queen of Candesce, Venera finally gets home, but Chaison isn’t there. He’s rumored to be imprisoned near Falcon Formation.
Pirate Sun tells the story of Chaison’s rescue by Antea Argyre, a woman who works for the Home Guard, a group who knows what’s outside Virga and is desperately trying to prevent it from infiltrating. After he’s rescued, Chaison wants to get home to Slipstream to take down the nation’s crooked leader (called “The Pilot”) and to reunite (if she’s alive) with Venera. However, Antea has her own agenda, so getting home may not be as easy as Chaison hopes. Indeed, there are multiple obstacles to overcome.
Pirate Sun is flashy, exciting, and fun. The settings are fabulous, there are cool fight scenes, fast chases, near death experiences, and scary monsters. The characters experience mistaken identities, betrayals, sexual tension, gasp-worthy sudden revelations, and sweet romantic reunions. There’s even a scene where someone crashes through a huge picture window.
Pirate Sun is a book that wants to be a movie, and I would definitely go see it if it were. Consequently, though, the characters sometimes feel like they’re acting a part, which has been a problem all through this series. Like traditional space opera, characterization and prose style take a back seat to the drama and action. If that’s what you’re in the mood for (and sometimes I am), the VIRGA series will satisfy you, but I do believe it’s possible for space opera to do everything right, and I’ll hold out my highest ratings for those that do. Good examples include Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN saga, John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR, Iain M. Banks’ CULTURE, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and of course, Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Macmillan Audio’s version of Pirate Sun is 10.5 hours long and narrated by Joyce Irvine and David Thorn. I like Thorn’s performance better than Irvine’s, for reasons I’ve mentioned before, and I think it’s confusing to have two narrators, but my issues aren’t big enough to stop me from reading the next book, The Sunless Countries, in audio format.
Virga — (2006-2012) Publisher: It is the distant future. The world known as Virga is a fullerene balloon three thousand kilometers in diameter, filled with air, water, and aimlessly floating chunks of rock. The humans who live in this vast environment must build their own fusion suns and “towns” that are in the shape of enormous wood and rope wheels that are spun for gravity. Young, fit, bitter, and friendless, Hayden Griffin is a very dangerous man. He’s come to the city of Rush in the nation of Slipstream with one thing in mind: to take murderous revenge for the deaths of his parents six years ago. His target is Admiral Chaison Fanning, head of the fleet of Slipstream, which conquered Hayden’s nation of Aerie years ago. And the fact that Hayden’s spent his adolescence living with pirates doesn’t bode well for Fanning’s chances…