The Burning Skies by David J. Williams
Book Two of the Autumn Rain series
Published by Spectra/Bantam, 2009 (Review copy received)
ISBN: 978 055 338 5427
Review by Mark Yon
Note: Book One of the series, The Mirrored Heavens, reviewed HERE.
So in this second book of David’s series, we’re back to the action in the 22nd century pretty much where we left things at the end of The Mirrored Heavens. The Autumn Rain group have destroyed the Earth’s Phoenix Space Elevator and much of what was there at the beginning.
In this second book, things happen mainly off planet. Despite the actions in The Mirrored Heavens, the terrorist group Autumn Rain have not been defeated. In an attempt to create peace between different Earth factions, a top secret meeting between the US President and the Eurasian Coalition has been arranged on the Europa platform, two O Neill space stations built into an asteroid at L5.
However, as you might expect, the situation soon deteriorates rapidly as we end up with Europa being compromised, surrounded by spaceships at standoff positions and an attack by Rain commandos with plans to assassinate US President Andrew Harrison being initiated as part of the Autumn Rain plot, to destroy Earth alliances and dominate humanity.
To this we have the book written as before in short burst chapters from a number of perspectives, the main characters in the book. Returning are Claire Haskell, US counterintelligence agent (Razor), now on the run after the events of The Mirrored Heavens; Stefan Lynx and Leo Saramax, two other Razor operatives met previously, Strom Carson, Razor leader and member of the elite Praetorian triad and Lyle Spencer, undercover operative.
The narrative moves quickly and at times blindingly fast between these characters. Those who have read the previous novel will be aware of this – others may find that takes a little bit of getting used to. At times, this can lead to characters being a tad interchangeable if you’re not careful, though there are helpful hints along the way, such as the main characters each being given a symbol to show from which perspective the narrative is coming from.
Haskell is soon given protection by the command of The Throne (Harrison) and is put under the protection of Gunnar Huselid (The Hand), the Commander of the Praetorian Guard. Her ability to hack into Autumn Rain’s cyber-network makes her a valuable asset in the fight against terrorism and may just give the superpowers the edge in the battle. The scenes where Haskell is protected and moved to safety whilst Europa is under attack are brilliant, everything Star Wars stormtroopers should be.
However things are not perhaps as clear as they at first seem to be.
What we have here is David’s style of fast-paced action and complex political machinations. There are intricate power plays and struggles for power as things reassert themselves, crossed and counter-crossed agents where no one trusts anyone else and the differentiation between right and wrong is deliberately blurred.
Such actions and style are quite filmic. In places the rather expletive-heavy dialogue reads as if it were part of a script rather than a novel. Like the fast-cut style of 21st century TV, the book assaults the reader from different perspectives throughout. You do have to follow things closely, especially when events are moving very quickly. This is not a book to skim through! Less focussed readers may find they have to backtrack at times, though the plotting and the consequences of such manoeuvrings are quite ingenious.
Likewise, the ending of the novel is brilliant – like the ending of 24 but in an SF setting, and leaves the reader wanting to know how things will change next. I’m not going to spoil it here, but it is pretty awesome.
Which is a good thing, especially as the next book in the series – Machinery of Light – is now available.
If you want to read complex, fast-paced SF, where the next plot-event is never obvious, then this is a book for you.
Mark Yon, May 2010.