Their nemesis lies in wait... Orlandine has destroyed the alien Jain super-soldier by deploying an actual black hole. And now that same weapon hoovers up clouds of lethal Jain technology, swarming within the deadly accretion disc's event horizon. All seems just as she planned. Yet behind her back, forces incite rebellion on her home world, planning her assassination.
Earth Central, humanity's ruling intelligence, knows Orlandine was tricked into releasing her weapon, and fears the Jain are behind it. The prador king knows this too - and both foes gather fleets of warships to surround the disc. The alien Client is returning to the accretion disc to save the last of her kind, buried on a ship deep within it. She upgrades her vast weapons platform in preparation, and she'll need it. Her nemesis also waits within the disc's swirling dusts - and the Jain have committed genocide before.
What sort of plot elements showcase a top-notch story? Well, one of the protagonists using a black hole like a bullet certainly sits high on the list, for me. But when the story 'zooms out' a bit and you see that such antics are still small moves in a far larger game... well, you know you are on to a winner. Welcome to the second book in Asher's "Rise of the Jain" trilogy.
Frankly, it never ceases to amaze me how Neal dreams up all these stories. I know that there are authors out there that can spin off a sequence of titles all chained one after the other and do a brilliant job of it, but what strikes me most often is how complete a universe Neal must have in his head, because he seems able to just drop a story that slots into his world so seamlessly, and it can be anywhere in the timeline. Still, when he commits to telling a big story, you know it's going to be a blockbusting trilogy full of near godlike powers in the hands of creatures either so advanced you can't see the big picture until after it is revealed, or so woefully unprepared that you won't see the crash coming until the character is already in freefall. In this story, we get a hefty dose of both.
In this title we get a lot more backstory about The Client and the Jain, we see, surprisingly, very little action from the resident Dragon sphere, and the sheer power, and limitations, of Orlandine as a tripartite entity - a hybrid chimaera of Human, crystal AI and tamed Jain tech - really come out from the shadows. Another character I was really pleased to get more character definition for was The Clade. Such an enigmatic entity, I was struggling to find the reasoning behind its actions... well, this tale dealt with that, and more. Lordie lordie, I hope we never create true swarm entities.
The plotlines of the two Hoopers - Captain Cog and Trike - diverge a bit, for good reason, but the bond between them means that Cog is never going to give up on 'redeeming' Trike before he transforms too far... but at what cost the redemption? None the less, it appears that both of them are destined to play pivotal roles in what comes next because nothing seems to prevent them from ploughing on through things even an Old Captain can't face alone. These two, amongst all the other, seem to have a more dramatic plot thread in contrast to everyone else's more battle-oriented plot. For Trike especially, it's not about survival any more.
Angel has his hero moment, a point of redemption that may or may not actually stick. Orlandine her moment of existential crisis that changes her. Blade also has a change of heart, mind and body... and the real warriors begin to emerge from the ultimate shadow... all triggered by Orlandine and her bouncing baby black hole. What a rollercoaster... exactly what we have come to expect from Neal Asher's Polity universe. Nothing is as it seems at first, second or even third glance really. We even get a look inside the shells of the King's Guard, and finally, a royal audience of our own, as we meet the Prador King himself, and discover his audacious plan for Orlik and the rogue Polity war drone Sprag.
Overall, this is a great centre-piece in the trilogy, and Asher is as always on fine form for a resounding round-up with the third title, probably due around March/April 2020 I would say. Asher does not disappoint, with a story packed with deep, rich characters and solid exposition. We know this place, and we like it here.
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"I really have a secret satisfaction in being considered rather mad."
W. Heath Robinson (1872 - 1944)