Review: The Consuming Fire

Posted: November 29, 2018 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: John Scalzi, Science Fiction
The Consuming Fire

Tell you what, the more I read of this guy’s stuff, the more I like him. Still haven’t gotten to the Old Man’s War books, but the LOCK IN series (EBR Archive) has been really good, and this one is also shaping up to be some serious goodness. When I got this one in the mail, I failed to realize though that we had already reviewed the first book, THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE (EBR Review, thanks be to Shawn), so I tackled that one first. Was awesome. In fact, I think I liked that one considerably more than he did. Likely would have read it anyways, as I have issues with reading middle-series books without first reading those that have come before. This can sometimes cause headaches for my EBR TBR pile, but as Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.” I was also extremely happy to find that this book absolutely doesn’t fall into anything like second-book syndrome and was oodles of good fun.

THE CONSUMING FIRE (Amazon) is the second book in The Interdependency by John Scalzi and it’s quite definitely looking like the interstellar epic that the book cover purports it to be. How refreshing. If you haven’t read the first one in the series, you should totally do that before reading this one or this review. I’m literally this close –> || to telling you to “go buy the thing now!”, which I usually reserve for authors/books at the top of my lovin list. He’s right there at the cusp. Stylin. Just checked our archives and Old Man’s War hasn’t been reviewed by us yet. So, expect that one in the near future, and if it’s anything like what I’ve heard it is and what I’ve come to expect thus far from Scalzi, he’s going to make the jump to our favorite authors list with that read.

So, now that we’ve weeded out the possible spoilerizable readers… you’ll remember that by the end of the first book, the central government of the Interdependency was just finding out that their mode of galaxy-spanning intra-habitat mode of transportation, The Flow, is on the verge of collapse. This means that in a very short period of time, each of the interdependent habitats of the Interdependency (see what the author did there?) are going to be out on their own and there’s not much chance any of them are going to survive. To make matters even more marvelous, the new emperox of the Interdependency narrowly missed being assassinated by one of the other ruling houses.

For the most part, this story is split between four main characters:

Kiva Lagos (the vulgar one that Shawn referenced in his review) has been put in charge of the Nohamapatan’s businesses on Hub. Ostensibly, someone needs to run them, now that Nadashe has been put into jail following her attempted assassination of the Emperox, and Kiva goes about this business by very unpolitical means indeed.

Marce Clarendon, a Flow scientist, is touring around lecturing those in power about why the Flows are going to collapse, as so very few of them actually believe it yet. That is, until he runs into the scientist that the Nohamapatan’s had crunching numbers for them during the lead up to their attempted coup. After some introductions, they find that they were both deficient in their calculations. Working together, they arrive upon a new model that shows the Flow is going to change differently than either of them had originally predicted, and a large number of those predictions are VERY interesting indeed.

The emperox, Cardenia Wu-Patrick ne Greyland II, is trying to keep from being assassinated and fighting with her growing infatuation with Marce. Also, the rising of the house of Nohamapatan was only the first, and she finds that she has to not only deal with this slowly growing tide of insurrection, but she must first learn how to speak their language of politics in the first place. Or does she?

And then there’s Nadashe Nohamapatan. She’s now in jail after having attempted the assassination of the Emperox and killing her brother, doing her best to find that “Get out of jail FREE” card, if she can just find the right strings to pull…

First chapter of this book was brilliant, especially given the context of the very end of the first book. Loved, loved, loved it. After that though, there are a whole bunch of chapters that tried their best to play “let’s fill in the backstory” game, and that got annoying pretty quick. I mean, I can understand the desire to accommodate those readers that pick this book up before reading the ones that COME PRIOR TO IT IN THE SERIES (ahem, <<cough>>, <<hack!>>… don’t mind me. Just a furball). You don’t want to lose them because they don’t understand what’s going on. Still, that kind of catch-you-up has just been handled a lot better by other authors, so I know it can be done. Granted, once you get past the initial block of annoying backstory infodump chapters, things get moving quickly, and I found that I forgave the author pretty quickly.

I very much appreciate the way that Scalzi wrote this book. It’s a quick study. Easy to read, easy to understand. Characterization is great. Loved getting into Kiva’s chapters. Especially as it becomes even more obvious how against the playing of politics that she is. In many ways, this is a very politically driven book. And yet, it doesn’t get bogged down in any of the stupidity or page-gobbling boredom that political definition can become in books like these. The characters avoid most of the overt machinations and nuanced scheming that politics can be, and really go straight to the gut-punches that the various parties eventually find themselves in. Was great. One of the few times that I can say that I actually enjoyed the politics at play in this story.

Also, I loved all of the directions that the story went. There’s this bit about foreshadowing that says a story’s twists should be “surprising but inevitable”. Something that you don’t expect, but that you can see the origins of when the twist comes to light. Scalzi does that brilliantly well in this book. I also find that the better a story is written, the less I’m inclined to think about the possible different directions that a story can go, and thus end up enjoying it more.

Oddly enough, one of the other observations I made about the book as I was reading was that Scalzi broke all sorts of the little rules that I so blithely throw around in my reviews. The closest comparison that I can make to his method of structure and writing is Mike Resnick. The difference is that Scalzi does all of the things that totally make me love his stories, and Resnick doesn’t. This book is the kind of book that I wish Mike Resnick’s were more like. Because really, they fall into very similar categories in my mind.

Great read. Loads of fun. Engaging, entertaining, and (I found) hilarious. And something even cooler: doesn’t look like this one is going to be a trilogy. All praise the Emperox of the Interdependency!

If you haven’t yet, this is a great series to dive into. Definitely one to add to your reading list. But do yourself a favor… and start with the first one. 🙂

  • Recommended Age: 17+
  • Language: Quite a bit of strong profanity from the large majority of the cast
  • Violence: Mildly violent, with a couple assassination attempts and some mild gore
  • Sex: Frank discussion throughout and a handful of mostly skipped-over scenes

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