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The Sundering
Walter Jon Williams
Earthlight, 452 pages

The Sundering
Walter J. Williams
Walter J. Williams (aka Walter Jon Williams) is the author of Knight Moves (1985), Hardwired (1986), Days of Atonement (1991), the Nebula nominee Metropolitan (1995) and its sequel, City on Fire, and the Drake Maijstral Series (The Crown Jewels, 1987, House of Shards, 1988, and Rock of Ages, 1995) among other books. At his site you'll find a complete bibliography and sample chapters.

Walter J. Williams Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Praxis
SF Site Review: Metropolitan
SF Site Review: The Rift
SF Site Review: Metropolitan

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

The Sundering is the second of Walter Jon Williams's space opera series collectively called Dread Empire's Fall. (First was The Praxis.) In the first novel the last of the Shaa, the long-lived aliens who controlled the multi-species Empire, died, setting off a battle for control. One species, the Naxids, rebelled, arguing that their status as first species to be conquered by the Shaa made them natural successors. The other species were taken by surprise by the rebellion, as they had apparently assumed that things would continue much as before, with power divided fairly evenly between the several species. A war quickly follows.

The central characters are two humans, Lord Gareth Martinez and Lady Caroline Sula. Both are relatively young and quite brilliant, and both become heroes in early action of the war, effectively preventing an immediate Naxid victory, though it is clear that the Naxids have the advantage of numbers. Martinez and Sula meet and are obviously attracted to each other. However both have flaws that will obviously cause future problems. Sula has a very dark secret in her background, further complicating her already compromised status as the last surviving member of a disgraced family. Martinez's family, while very rich, is provincial and thus his social status is tenuous, and his ambitions (and those of the rest of his family) tempt him towards dicey social and political manipulations, and occasional rather careerist, and conceited, actions.

In The Sundering, the story of the war as well as the personal stories of Martinez and Sula are advanced but not resolved, as one might expect from a middle book. Both are responsible in part for some further military successes, due to their brilliant tactical minds (and to fruitful collaboration). Their personal relationship takes some steps forward as well, only to be impeded by mutual misunderstandings, and by the problems mentioned above: Sula's past, and the ambitions of Martinez and his family. By the end of the novel a plan the two concocted for saving the Empire has been put into motion, albeit credited to more respectable people, and each are involved in desperate battles (of very different sorts) with the Naxids.

The book is very exciting, with some first rate space action, and some ground-based action as well. Williams appears to take great care in making his battle scenes plausible, taking into account travel times, acceleration requirements, and the general physics of space travel in planetary systems. Various aspects seem modelled on Napoleonic era naval adventure books, such as the hierarchical nature of shipboard society, and indeed the aristocratic focus of the overall society. The overall design is quite familiar, including such important things as the hero and heroine being brilliant mavericks, and such small details as Martinez's crusty and wily veteran servant. But if much is familiar, even cliché, Williams works very well within the form. The intrigues and twists and those disasters the reader sees coming give great pleasure. The flawed characters still attract this reader, and I root for them despite grimacing at their folly. This series is great fun to read, one of the most entertaining space operas in many years.

Copyright © 2004 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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