House of Suns

The good folks at Gollancz sent me an ARC of Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns way back in 2008. Not sure why it took me fourteen years to finally read it. Especially given how good the novel turned out to be. I have no excuse. Nor should you. If you're a fan of space opera on a grand scale, this book is definitely for you!

Reynolds is best known for his Revelation Space series, which is comprised of several novels, novellas, and short stories. Understandably, delving into such a sequence, even more so for a newbie, can be quite daunting. Yet as a standalone project, House of Suns is the perfect opportunity for readers unfamiliar with the author's body of work to jump in and give him a shot. Believe you me: You won't regret it!

Here's the blurb:

Six million years ago, at the dawn of the star-faring era, Abigail Gentian fractured herself into a thousand male and female clones, which she called shatterlings. She sent them out into the galaxy to observe and document the rise and fall of countless human empires. Since then, every two hundred thousand years, they gather to exchange news and memories of their travels.

Only there is no Gathering. Someone is eliminating the Gentian line. And now Campion and Purslane -- two shatterlings who have fallen in love and shared forbidden experiences -- must determine exactly who, or what, their enemy is, before they are wiped out of existence . . .

Alastair Reynolds is known for big-concept science fiction novels. Still, the sheer scope of the plot sets House of Suns apart from most space opera offerings out there. What makes it even more impressive is that Reynolds was able to cram it all into a standalone story. And even if the immensity of it all can at times be mind-boggling, unlike lots of hard scifi yarns House of Suns never loses track of the humanity that is the heart of this tale, namely that of the two main protagonists. The scale of most of the conceptual elements was so broad and fascinating that they could have drowned what is essentially the underpinning of the plot.

The characterization is excellent. The bulk of the book features the perspectives of Campion and Purslane, and I felt that there was a good balance between the two points of view. Though deeply in love, their outlook on things can't be quite different and it was interesting to see events unfold through their eyes. Each new part begins with a flashback scene from a young Abigail Gentian. These help readers understand how and why she elected to clone herself and send those shatterlings across the galaxy. Although I did enjoy those flashbacks, in the end they weren't as important to the tale as I first thought they would be. And even if Campion and Purslane take center stage for the most part, one member of the supporting cast really came into its own and upstaged them from time to time. The golden robot Hesperus, one of the Machine People whose memory was erased, played an important role in making this novel what it was.

There are some pacing issues here and there. Mostly in the first half of the novel. Indeed, it does take a while to understand what the story is all about. It's never boring, mind you. But it makes you wonder where Reynolds is going with the plot. Especially given the fact that we know from the blurb that the Gentian line was nearly wiped out as they gathered for their new reunion. From about the halfway point, however, House of Suns becomes a veritable page-turner.

The endgame is thrilling all the way through and Reynolds caps it all off with the sort of grand finale that will make you beg for more. I know that the author wrote the short story "Belladonna Nights" which is set in the House of Suns universe, but I would love for Reynolds to come up with more novel-length projects taking place in the same setting. I feel that there is so much left to explore. Even more so with the ending and the doors it left open.

Six million years of history and exploration, weapons of mass destruction, star dams capable of holding a nebula, ancient races and unfathomable technology, stellar engineering, powerful AI, cloning, wormholes, the nature of longevity and memory, star-crossed lovers, and so much more. How could you not want to read this book!?!

The final verdict: 8.5/10

For more info about this title, follow this Amazon Associate link.

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