Review: THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE by John Scalzi

31568281I received the e-ARC of this book from Pan McMillan through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

When a fellow blogger mentioned that NetGalley had this title available for request I applied immediately: how could I not, since I’m a huge Scalzi fan? Not that I had many hopes of seeing my request accepted, since I’m well aware that my blog is a small one, with a low posting rate, but I had to try anyway. So you can imagine my delighted surprise when I received the confirmation email: the wait for the official release of the book would not have been long, granted, but the possibility of reading this new story right there and then was very exciting. To say the least…

The premise of The Collapsing Empire is that the impossibility of attaining faster-than-light travel has been bypassed by the discovery of the Flow, a sort of inter-dimensional set of “corridors” able to bring ships toward other worlds, not unlike a set of currents in an ocean.  Moving away from mother Earth, humanity has established a huge interstellar empire, the Interdependency, spreading among the stars in search of habitable worlds. Not finding any, with the exception of End – aptly named because it’s the terminus of the Flow – the Interdependency chose to build stations and artificial habitats where civilization flourished in a tightly connected web of mutual support.

Until the time when the story begins, the Flow has been believed to be set and immutable – that is, with the exception of the tragedy of Dalasysla, whose inhabitants were cut off from the Interdependency by what was termed a once-only destabilization of the Flow. People can choose selective blindness when it suits them, however, and for centuries they have blithely ignored the simple fact that something named ‘Flow’ is all but static, and the Flow is indeed destabilizing, or probably changing the direction of its currents, so that the human colonies that it connected until this moment are now threatened with permanent isolation, and probably extinction.

In times of such massive changes or upheavals that menace the fabric of society, there are those who prefer to turn a blind eye to it all, those who try to profit from the turmoil, and those who attempt to salvage the salvageable: these different positions constitute the core of the novel and should be discovered by reading it, so I will not reveal anything else about the plot, focusing rather on the central characters.

For those readers who enjoy the presence of solid female characters, The Collapsing Empire does not disappoint, on the contrary the most prominent figures in the story are mostly women, starting with Cardenia Wu-Patrick, the newly elected emperox of the Interdependency. Elected by default, it must be said, because she’s the sort-of-illegitimate daughter of the previous emperox and she entered in the line of succession due to an unfortunate accident in which the rightful heir was involved.   Finding the unexpected weight of the Interdependency on her shoulders, she tries to adapt to her new role, and it’s through the trial-and-error of her first few days, marred by some very harrowing circumstances, that her strength of character and quiet determination come to the fore – nicely balanced by a touch of humor and self-deprecating irony.  I believe that the story so far just showed the tip of the iceberg with Cardenia, and that this is one character who has many interesting developments in store for the readers along the way.

There is no story without an evil counterpart, and no one is more fit for this role than House Nohamapetan – one of the many trading Houses of the Interdependency – and its de-facto ruler lady Nadashe.  She is above all a skilled manipulator, an intelligent, ambitious woman who knows what she wants and how to get it: by contrast, her two brothers – equally scheming and ambitious – appear as no more than putty in her competent hands, and it’s no surprise that she is the one pulling all the strings. Even those leading to murder…

The most conspicuous, striking – and ultimately amusing – character remains however that of Kiva Lagos, representative of the Lagos trading House and my absolute winner in case of a contest among the novel’s figures: she is brash, outspoken and uncaring of any behavioral or diplomatic convention, and she peppers her speeches with an amount of profanity that would give the Expanse‘s Avarasala a run for her money –  although, unlike the more eloquent Avarasala, her four-letter vocabulary is exclusively limited to the f* word in all its declinations…   Needless to say, I loved Kiva since she first appeared on the scene: only a skilled writer like John Scalzi could deftly manage such a foul-mouthed character, and the endless stream of expletives hovering like a cloud around her, and at the same time turn Kiva Lagos into a reader’s number one choice for… well, heroine.  And I have not even mentioned her equally formidable mother!

As far as the narrative itself is concerned, the tone and mood are what I’ve come to expect, and enjoy, from a Scalzi novel: serious business interspersed with humorous commentaries on situations and the vagaries of the human mind, and an intriguing core concept that promises to develop into fascinating directions. One detail I’d like to mention in particular is the homage paid toward Iain Banks’ Culture series (or so I like to believe) in the names of the ships listed in the story: names like Yes Sir, That’s My Baby; Some Nerve!; If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.  It was both amusing and charming, and I appreciated it greatly.

My only complaint (if I can call it that) is that The Collapsing Empire is mostly dedicated to building the framework for this new series, and as such it’s focused on laying the foundation for the future developments, ending when separate events start coalescing into an intriguing whole: the novel does not close with a cliffhanger, not as such, but the promise of things to come is not enough – I want more, and I want it right now. Which means I’m happily on board to see how this will all pan out.


My Rating:


23 thoughts on “Review: THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE by John Scalzi

  1. So glad you loved this! And congrats on getting a copy and being able to read it early. I am going to be part of the blog tour in March so I will be getting a copy as well, so excited to read it now that I know someone I trust approves:-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This one is the beginning of a new series that’s not connected to anything else Scalzi wrote before, so you can diver straight in. My advice would be to try his Old Man’s War series as well (again, space opera) and… well, anything he writes, really 🙂


  2. So glad you enjoyed this one. I’m looking forward to reading it too. I’ve only read Lock in by Scalzi but I thoroughly enjoyed it and so hoping to love this one too.
    And, of course you would get approved!! Your blog is most excellent and you write some of the most intelligent and well thought out reviews around the sphere 😀 I always look forward to your reviews.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ohhh! ((blushes furiously)) Thank you so much for your kind words!

      If you’ve read only Lock In, and enjoyed it, you will certainly like anything else Scalzi writes: Lock In was – IMHO – his most “serious” book, meaning that he usually throws some more tongue-in-cheek humor into the mix, so if you want to try something on the other end of the spectrum I can recommend Redshirts – it pokes a great deal of fun on the Start Trek myth 😉


      1. The stories got somewhat repetitive to me, and the main character constantly outsmarting everyone began to feel unrealistic. The first two books in the series are some of my favorites, but after that . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Three cheers for small blogs! Cardenia, Nadashe, and Kiva all sound like fabulous characters, and it’s nice to see an ensemble cast dominated by women for once (instead of the one or two that are usually present). I’m also excited to hear that Scalzi’s trademark humour is abundant in this one because let’s be real: his quips are the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are, indeed! I’m in the middle of his short story collection “Miniatures” and yesterday I laughed out loud at an “interview” with a very miffed Pluto for having been demoted from planet status… 😀 Typical Scalzi humor!


    1. Don’t look! Don’t look! 😀 😀
      Jokes aside, I’ve kept my spoilers to a minimum, but I know what you mean about going into a book with fresh eyes. What I can safely tell you is that if you like Scalzi’s writing, this one will certainly NOT disappoint…
      Looking forward to your review!


          1. Yeah, I’m “booked up” until March, actually. Not a bad way to spend the time! Can’t wait to see what you’re reading next, too!!

            Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw it on Netgalley but I didn’t request it because I have several Netgalley ARCs that I have not read and reviewed and I would like to catch up a bit on my reading of those before adding more :p
    Great review, I don’t know where to start with Scalzi but this book looks like a good entry point and if one of the main characters reminded you Avasarala, it’s a good sign haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kiva Lagos is a fun character indeed: she’s not half as clever, or politically shrewd, as Avarasala, but is she lacks some experience, she more than compensates with enthusiasm and some delightfully bold-faced kick-ass attitude 🙂


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