THE DRAGON'S NINE SONS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The latest of Chris Robersonís Celestial Empire novels, The Dragonís Nine Sons, follows a group of military misfits sent on a suicide mission to destroy Xolotl, a Mexica space station in orbit around the Red Star, or, in our world, Mars. In previous novels and short stories, Roberson has set up a complex world in which the Chinese Empire is fighting against the Mexica for world, and even interstellar supremacy. The Dragonís Nine Sons shrinks this conflict down to size by the expedient measure of focusing on a small group cut off from the world, and society, at large.
The novel is a strange combination of The Seven Samurai, The Canterbury Tales, and Star Wars. Not only does the group of none men represent the worst the Celestial Empire has to offer, but many of them take an instant dislike to each other. When Dea, one of the misfits, discovers his personal property has disappeared, it becomes evident that the individuals are as much a threat to the success of their mission as the Mexica could ever be.
Opening the novel with scenes bringing the disparate band of nine together, Roberson follows them through their training on board a cramped spaceship en route to the space station where they must try to accomplish their mission against all odds. The small space on the ship allows Roberson to focus on the interpersonal relationships building between the characters. The fact that each of the characters were selected for the mission because of their inability to serve in the normal military, the tension between them is practically palpable.
Roberson also uses the long journey and the tension among the group to introduce each of the characterís back stories and explain how they found themselves on the mission. While this allows him to humanize each of them, many of the stories, and the manner in which they come out, draws further wedges between the characters. Robersonís nine are not a group that will come to bond with each other. Fortunately, each of the characters has good qualities which allows the readers to form a bond with one or more of the characters.
Once on the space station, Robersonís Magnificent Nine re-write their mission and scurry around the space station, like Asian (mostly) Luke Skywalkers and Han Solos as they try to rescue Celestial captives and destroy the Mexica outpost. Although the official plan had already fallen apart before the nine docked, their revised plan falls apart even more upon contact with the Mexica on their home turf.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspects of The Dragonís Nine Sons is the way Roberson uses these nine individuals who are shunned by their society for breaking the rules, committing crimes, and generally being considered unfit for the military to examine the way each of them has his own code of honor, based on societyís codes, which drove each of them into the situation which places them on a suicide mission to Xolotl. This look at how men who are seen as dishonorable can, and do, still have a personal sense of honor to guide their actions.The Dragonís Nine Sons is set in a world which Roberson is constantly expanding. Not only does it present interesting ideas and characters, but it whets the readerís appetite for further exploration in the world of the Celestial Empire.
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