“I’m someone infinitely more capable than a mere heir to a backward nation on this backward little wheel.”
Warning: This review contains a minor spoiler for Sun of Suns, the previous volume in the VIRGA series, but the same spoiler is in the publisher’s blurb for the book, so maybe it’s not really a spoiler after all.
Queen of Candesce is the second book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. It’s been four years since I read the first book, Sun of Suns, so I don’t remember all of the details of that story, but I do vividly recall the fascinating world that Schroeder built and I remember that at the end of Sun of Suns, Venera Fanning, who I despised, was falling off Candesce, the artificial sun of Virga. “Good Riddance,” I remember thinking. That’s why I didn’t pick up this second book at the time — I knew it was about Venera. But then I’ve been on this mission for the past year and a half to finish up all the series I’ve started and this was one of them, so here I go.
So, in Sun of Suns we left Venera falling and, in Queen of Candesce, we open with Venera still falling. (For those who don’t know, Virga is an artificial world that exists inside a giant balloon-like structure somewhere near the star Vega. There is no gravity inside, but there is a giant artificial sun called Candesce which is surrounded by man-made planets that spin to produce their own gravity. There are other rocks floating around as well as, asteroids, planets, man-made suns… and — would you believe it? — piranhas.)
Venera, who has no idea if her previous mission succeeded or if her husband is dead or alive, lands on the planet Spyre, which is a big spinning cylinder with open ends. She’s caught by a man who has been exiled from one of the great cities of Spyre. Venera soon learns that Spyre is old and dilapidated; it’s being held together by cables and jet engines that are starting to rust and fail. There is also political turmoil on Spyre and, of course, it’s not too long before the ultra-competent Venera, who has been thwarted in her effort to escape the planet, is in the thick of it, dealing with various political factions, including a group of naively idealistic revolutionaries (my favorite characters in the book). Is Venera cunning enough to get off of Spyre and return home to Slipstream? Probably.
At first I continued to dislike Venera, especially when Schroeder gives us some flashbacks which show Venera as a child, biting her tutors and decapitating her dolls. Her psychopathy is a little over-the-top. But eventually, with more backstory, I started to understand her better, admired her cleverness and ambition, and sensed that she has a code of ethics after all.
I also continued to admire Schroeder’s imagination. Virga is a wonderfully bizarre place and Schroeder uses his setting to great advantage, in contrast to Larry Niven, who built the amazing Ringworld but failed to get anything interesting going there. Schroeder never lets you forget that the town you’re visiting may be hanging onto a creaking metal wheel spinning in the sky, tucked into the cleft of an asteroid, or orbiting an artificial sun that could be shut down with the turn of a key. Occasional quirky elements in the story highlight Schroeder’s subtle sense of humor. But while the setting is awesome and the story is fun, the characters remain rather shallow, and sometimes it’s hard to believe in them, though they are definitely better here than in the first book. Sometimes it’s also hard to visualize the setting, and action scenes can be hard to follow.
I’m not crazy about the narration in Macmillan Audio’s version of Queen of Candesce, but only because I don’t think the reader, Joyce Irvine, is a good fit. I like her voice and performance, but she sounds too old for Venera, who is in her twenties. I had to keep making the age adjustment in my mind. Though, for what it’s worth, I think Schroeder should have made Venera older — it would have been more believable. I noticed that reviewers at Audible had no issue with Ms. Irvine’s performance, so this is probably just my problem.
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…