Book Review: The Sea Peoples by S. M. Stirling
I’ve fallen behind on the Change novels, and have clearly missed some important happenings. On the other hand, it’s a good test of a writer’s skill if a reader can pick up the narrative after a few episodes and not be confused. I’m pleased to say Mr. Stirling’s talent for writing a long, complicated series continues unabated.
I try not to include a lot a plot details when I review a book, mostly because no matter how hard one tries, there will be spoilers. So, long story short, The Sea Peoples has one major and one minor plotline, which will be familiar to those who follow this series. The major story line involves a surreal rescue of Prince John Arminger Mackenzie; the minor continues a previous one in which Crown Princess Órlaith Arminger Mackenzie aids her new friend, the Japanese Empress Reiko, battle the Korean hordes. The evil power that has driven most of the villainy in the series hovers in the shadows, this time embodied in the theme of Robert Chambers’s The King in Yellow.
For battle fans, there are plenty of those, both on land and at sea. Not all the enemies are human. That’s all I’m going to say on that score.As someone who has written a fantasy trilogy, I’m very familiar with the difficulty of keeping a multitude of characters, story lines, backstory, history, geography, culture and mythology straight. As someone who has read more than a few longer-running series, I always find it a pleasure when Mr. Stirling takes me back to the world of the Change. Unlike far too many others, he never pads the narrative, leaving the action for the last hundred or so pages, just to drag the conclusion further down the line.
This new episode is no exception. The action is nonstop, and liberally seasoned with humor. The underlying theme of the entire series—that humanity has a huge capacity for survival through cooperation—is one we truly need to hear in these times of chaos when powerful forces seek to divide us into warring tribes.
My one criticism is that the repetition of events from the previous book rather got out of hand. It’s not a good sign when a reader finds herself saying “I got it, already. Move on.” Information is important; redundancy is irksome. Fortunately, most of that happens in the first few chapters, and once we get down to business there’s no stopping for anything except maybe bathroom breaks. Maybe not even those.
The best part of this book for me was the rescue team’s journey through an alternate world slowly being corrupted by a cult of the King in Yellow. There, we observe the development from the villain not from the outside, or even in his own point of view but through the “eyes” of Prince John, whose consciousness travels inside the man’s head. That kind of up close and personal is exceedingly creepy.
Fans of the series won’t be disappointed. Newcomers to the post-Change world should be able to enjoy this book even if they aren’t familiar with what’s gone before and may risk addiction by the time they’re finished. The inevitable unresolved issues at the end, as always, leave the reader anxiously waiting to see what happens next. I may manage to catch up on what I missed by then.
I would personally, as writer and editor, like to thank Mr. Stirling for not referring to the smell of blood as “coppery.” I don’t know who is responsible for starting that particular cliché, but it has become a crutch for far too many writers who apparently don’t have contact with the real thing. And if the reader is a Trek fan, it’s nearly impossible not to wonder whether the dead person was a Vulcan in disguise. But I digress.
The Sea Peoples is another excellent tale from an extremely talented writer who has created a world that looks increasingly enticing to anyone stressed out by the real one. You should buy it. Or ask your local library to buy it.
Standard disclaimer: This review is based on an advanced review copy of the book provided for me by the publisher.