Full disclosure: I'm a friend of Fran's.
Fuller disclosure: He asked me to read this book.
Fullest disclosure: I absolutely HATE science fiction.
I mostly read romance and mysteries. Fran asked me to read Which Art In Hope anyway. He called it "science fiction for people who hate science fiction," and suggested that it might be more to my taste than I thought.
He was right.
This is character-driven SF. It has very little tech crap in it. It's beautifully written. It's as involving emotionally as anything else I've ever read. And even if it's about the survival of a whole world that MIGHT be the last refuge of the human race, for me the stakes were about what would happen to Armand, Teresza, Charisse, and the rest of the major characters.
Hope is a surprising society, almost the exact opposite of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Huxley shows you something that looks really good on the surface, but it's a horror show underneath. Hope is the opposite: it looks modest, maybe even stark, on the surface...but the more I read about it, the more I wanted to make it my home.
Fans of ray guns, faster-than-light travel, time travel, and so forth should avoid this book. Fans of the human heart should put it at the top of their lists.
I'm a friend of Fran's. I've known him for about twenty years. Until a few months ago, I had never read any of his fiction. He describes what he writes as supernatural fantasy, and I mostly read romance and mysteries.
OMG, what I've been missing!
Shadow of a Sword is a complex, many-textured book. We have Christine's ongoing investigation of what she is, her talks with young Father Ray -- damn that no-girlfriends rule! -- the war between Conway's Integral Security and the activities of the Lawrence brothers, Stephen Sumner's quest for the presidency, and the BIG conflict that Malcolm and Christine were created for. I've never read a book that had that many contrasting themes and plots woven into it before. But here's the punch line: it all works, and better yet, it all works TOGETHER!
For best results, a new reader should start with Chosen One, then read On Broken Wings, and only then tackle Shadow of a Sword. But even if you start with Shadow of a Sword, I guarantee you a mind-bender of a ride.
(Flashy, you fink, what else have you been hiding from me all these years? Oh, by the way, hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!)
In my experience, the better the novel is, the worse its sequels will be. The author is so thrilled by the success of the first book that he sets out to write the same book a second time, to "catch lightning in a bottle" in the same exact way. It never works.
That's not the case here.
This sequel to "Which Art In Hope" is deeper emotionally than its prequel. The first book is a moral and philosophical conundrum; this one is more of a family saga. Clan Morelon gets a much fuller and richer treatment. More of its members step forward and become three-dimensional. A couple turn out not to be what I expected -- and that worked out just fine.
Protagonist Althea is a Fran Porretto specialty: a larger than life heroine whose trials challenge her and her equally impressive husband Martin appropriately to their stature. He keeps coming up with these supermen and making them believable, emotionally accessible and appealing, even though their supporting casts make it clear how far they are above the human norm.
I'm a friend of Fran's. He had to plead with me to read "Which Art In Hope." I agreed to do it only grudgingly, and was surprised by how good it is. "Freedom's Scion" didn't have that going for it: I expected it to be first-rate...and Fran surprised me yet again.
Fran tells me there's going to be a third book. I can't wait.
At first I found Freedom's Fury confusing, but that was because I put off reading it for far too long. I had to go back to Which Art In Hope and Freedom's Scion for refresher courses before I could do it justice. It was well worth it.
Which Art In Hope was an exploration of what happens when a gaggle of anarchists have to cope with a problem that seems to demand collective action. Freedom's Scion was more of a family saga, a study of the forces inside a complex family with several very powerful members. Freedom's Fury is neither of those things. I've been sitting here for quite a while trying to find the right category for it, and here's what I've come up with.
It's a war story.
Even though the war isn't terribly distinct, it's there, and it's always being fought. The thing that makes it unique is that it's being fought on two fronts: one on Hope itself, among familiar faces; the other over interstellar distances against an enemy that only one person has ever confronted.
There isn't a lot of bloodshed, just enough to clue you in (if you're paying attention) to what's really going on. What makes it special is what the blurb says about it: this is "the women's hour." Women, both on Hope and on the distant world of the Loioc, are the initiators and prosecutors of this war. Some very special women are the chief combatants throughout. The male characters sort of tag along behind them, even when they seem to shove themselves forward and take command for a little while.
I know all about the vogue for what Fran calls "tough chick lit." This isn't in that vein. It's as original as anything I've ever read, and brilliant beyond words. It makes the Spooner Federation trilogy a true and complete work of art.
Congrats, Flashy. You did it again -- and you got me to read actual sci-fi at that, you fink!