See also my review of The Risen Empire (Book One of Succession)
First up, a warning: if you haven’t read Book One of Succession, The Risen Empire, then you need to stop reading this review now and go and read it. I’ll see you in a couple of days.
OK, read it? Good. The Killing Of Worlds takes up exactly where The Risen Empire left off and continues in an identical vein, which is to say juxtaposing some hardcore, hard-science, hard-vacuum Golden Age sf with just a little bit of girlie kissing and talking about feelings and sensitive stuff. This is not science fiction for people who don’t really like science fiction. If you don’t feel a slightly guilty thrill as the cutting edge of scientific extrapolation is heated to a white heat over the Bunsen flame of a cracking story then this is not the book for you. If, however, (like me) you consider yourself a decently intelligent reader in need of some good old-fashioned pulp heroics then you’ve come to the right place.
As recounted in The Risen Empire, the Empire frigate ‘Lynx’ was just about to make a probably suicidal last stand against a vastly superior battleship of the cyborg Rix in order to stop them revealing the ultimate secret of the Risen Empire – a secret the Emperor is now prepared to sacrifice an entire planet to protect if the Lynx should fail (hence the title of this book). But now, as the Lynx battles both to complete its mission and to survive, light-years away upon the capital world of the Empire, Nara Oxham – empathic beloved of Laurent Zai, the Lynx’s captain, and coincidentally (and most fortuitously) a dissident member of the Senate – is making some discoveries of her own that might just do the Rix’s work for them. And about time too, since something is seriously rotten in the Empire (pun intended).
Westerfeld has spent a not inconsiderable amount of effort setting up an interesting and believable stage for all this action to take place upon, a stage that many other writers might take significantly more time decorating – and not unjustifiably, since the Risen Empire is only a small (if disproportionately hubristic) part of the small area of the galaxy that has been settled by the varied descendants of humanity. That Westerfeld feels confident enough to use it and apparently discard it now (there is no Book Three of Succession planned) suggests either some similarly proportioned hubris on his part or a stunning body of work to come...
My critical facilities were utterly helpless in the face of Westerfeld’s high-tension, jet-propelled narrative. It’s just full of straightforward, quick-thinking good guys (and gals!) giving admirable displays of stoical heroics in the midst of savage destruction. Don’t spend too much time on the two Succession books, but just one or two days ripping through each of them is a pure mainline of entertainment that will make you feel 10 years-old again. Which isn’t to say they’re simplistic or uncomplicated – far from it: they’re just beautifully straightforward.