Reviews

THE LAST EMPEROX (The Interdependency #3), by John Scalzi

 

I received this novel from Tor Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

A series’ ending might probably be one of the most difficult tasks an author faces: readers’ expectations, narrative twists and resolutions, characters’ paths – it all must come together at the end, and I also imagine it might not be easy to let go of a world that one has so carefully built over time. Well, The Last Emperox turned out to be a very satisfactory ending to the Interdependency series, and did so by also being a compelling and fun read from the very start, where it offered a sort of recap of what went before by observing a character’s thoughts as his ship comes under attack. Not only did this choice avoid any dangers of info-dumping, it also managed to turn into entertaining recollections what could very well have been the last, terrified considerations of an endangered individual. After all, this is a work from John Scalzi, and one must expect some playful rule-breaking…

So, the Interdependency is a galaxy-spanning civilization whose settlements are connected by the Flow, a system of wormhole-like paths that allow ships to cover vast distances in a relatively short time. The Flow has been in operation for centuries, but recently scientists have discovered that the whole system is going to collapse, therefore isolating these far-flung settlements and very likely dooming the inhabitants to death, since only one planet in the whole confederation is able to sustain life in an Earth-like environment and all the others are artificial habitats depending heavily on Flow-driven commerce. Such catastrophic news brings out the best and worst in humanity, as it’s wont to do: some of the  great  merchant Houses try to speculate by amassing even more riches and power, others try to help in maintaining a level of civilization and the newly elected Emperox, Grayland II, finds herself dealing with a difficult situation, several attempts on her life and the conflicting agendas of various Houses.

Despite the light, playful tone, this series deals with several quite serious subjects, like the way people react when confronted with an imminent catastrophe – considering the moment in which I read this book, with humanity facing a worldwide crisis, I thought it was very spot-on and I was glad for the author’s trademark lightness because observing the various fictional players it was impossible not to make disheartening comparisons with actual events. The series, and The Last Emperox in particular, shows how personal advantage is paramount for power-hungry individuals and how sowing distrust and misinformation helps drive their agendas, while the general population is divided between the few who plan in advance against a worst-case scenario and those lulled into the complacent belief that those in power will find a solution before the inevitable becomes a reality.

Where I found the second book in this series, The Consuming Fire, somewhat uneven in pacing due to the shift between the quicker-flowing sections and the long chunks of exposition dialogue, this final installment turned into a swift, riveting read as the antagonists’ plots battled against the Emperox’s and her allies’ countermeasures, generating a constant race against time, fueled by shrewdness and political expediency that kept the story lively and the tension high.  Most of this narrative tension rests on the three main characters: Grayland II, whose desire to be a good and just ruler needs to be balanced against the challenging decisions she must take in the face of the forthcoming Flow collapse; Nadashe Nohamapetan, the very embodiment of the evil lady, the dastardly plotter whose ambitions are surpassed only by her ruthlessness; and Kiva Lagos, the foul-mouthed, crafty ally of the Emperox who remains my favorite character and one of the best sources of humor in the whole series.

It’s worth noting how these three women are not only at the very center of things, but also the most striking figures among the various personalities peopling this series: for example, if Nadashe is a vile adversary who stops at nothing to fulfill her goals, she ultimately does not come across as totally bad, if that makes any sense. As I saw her labyrinthine plans taking shape, I was torn between wanting them to fail and at the same time feeling sorry if they didn’t: in a way I ended up envisioning her as poor Wile E. Coyote, who concocted equally convoluted and far-reaching plans to win over Road Runner, only to be always spectacularly defeated in the end – and that never failed to elicit some form of sympathy from me.  On the other hand, there was no ambiguity in my cheering for Kiva’s success, and although at some point she managed to set in motion a series of events whose serendipity might appear totally unbelievable, it all worked within the over-the-top setup of her character, making it easy to suspend my disbelief and equally easy to observe her antics with an amused smile. Grayland looks less intense in comparison with these two formidable figures, her apparent candor masking instead a firm determination and a core of integrity that seems to be sorely lacking in the Interdependency, and that’s the main reason I was surprised – or rather stunned – at her unexpected choice for solving the quandary and giving her subjects a new direction and a hope for the future. I must say I did not expect the direction the story took and that in this instance the author managed to drop a very unpredictable twist on me here.

Where The Last Emperox draws all the narrative threads of the series to a good close, I find myself sorry to have to leave this universe, and I hope that John Scalzi might decide in the future to return here, maybe to show us how the former Interdependency fares in a post-collapse of the Flow future.

 

My Rating:

22 thoughts on “THE LAST EMPEROX (The Interdependency #3), by John Scalzi

  1. I believe yours is the first review I’ve read of this book, and I’m glad you liked the way it wrapped up the series. I’m behind, as I haven’t read The Consuming Fire yet, but one day I’d love to catch up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is something to be said about these books, they are not huge tomes and they all turn out to be swift reads, so I’m certain you will find some space on your busy TBR (and when our TBRs are not busy?) to complete the series. It’s worth it 🙂

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  2. I’m sort of not surprised to see that you read and loved this one, Maddalena! Clearly, I will have to hurry up and pick up a Scalzi novel sooner rather than later. I do like how timely the whole “dealing with an imminent catastrophe” idea is in this book and how he somehow balances light and heavy in this series. Excellent review as always! Thanks for sharing! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! Any novel from John Scalzi is a joy to read and a way to face serious themes with a facetious tone that nevertheless sets you to thinking – it’s one of the details I most appreciate in his works. Besides this trilogy, I can recommend his Old Man’s War series – or standalones like Redshirts. Happy reading 🙂

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  3. I was somewhat disappointed in book 2 with some of its preachiness of its message. I don’t mind Scalzi being quite politically outspoken on Twitter, but it is when it seeps into his fiction that it becomes a bit problematic. I was going to wait to see what reviews were like before hitting this one up, and looks like I may have to at least consider it given your rating. And it doesn’t seem like the agenda pushing is quite as strong here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The preachiness (and the long, drawn-out disquisitions) in book 2 did not work for me either, so this final book was a pleasant surprise indeed. I think Scalzi wrote something about his frame of mind at the time in which he was writing the second volume, so that might have bled into the narrative…
      This one is more in line with his previous work so… happy reading 🙂

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  4. Thank you for this very thoughtful and informative review. While his Redshirts has been on my radar for some time, I’ve never read Scalzi. I look forward to remedying this situation, because this stuff seems to be right up my lane.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve only read the actual books, not listened to them, anyway you could start with Redshirts, which is a stand-alone and it’s a humorous take on the Star Trek trope that the ones wearing red shirts were alway destined to an early – sometimes gruesome – death. And this being Scalzi there is a weird twist in the story. Then you could try his space opera series Old Man’s War: the premise being that once people reach the age of 75, the space colonization force offers them a new lease on life, if they accept to fight against aliens. Or, on another genre altogether, there are Lock In and Head On, dealing with a pandemic that leaves its victims conscious but paralyzed and in need of a sort of robot body to interact with the rest of the wold. But you might want to skip this one right now, for obvious reasons… 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahh, this is encouraging. I still haven’t read No.2 and I was a bit more hesitant given the reviews but as the series seems to be finishing on a high I might have to bump this up the list.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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