Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove
Book 2 of the Chung Kuo series
Published by Corvus, November 2011 (Review copy received)
ISBN: 978 1 84887 831 0
Review by Mark Yon
And so to Book Two of this revised series (Book One, Son of Heaven, was reviewed here.)
At the end of Son of Heaven, our hero, Jake Reed and his friends and family, were being whisked away by the Chinese General Jiang Lei, following the subjugation of the Corfe Castle area.
Whereas the first book concentrated on Reed and the events in England, here, two years later, we are in China. Beginning in Summer 2067, the tale this time around is not only involving Jake and his family but is mainly from the Chinese perspective. We deal with the Emperor Tsao Ch’un and his Generals, as well as the group of advisors known as ‘The Seven’.
Whilst the story focuses on the perspectives of a number of key characters, it is the often brief yet cumulative comments that create a wider picture. Japan has already been destroyed through nuclear weapons, and the Middle East does so here in a matter of sentences, refusing to disavow their religion. Other hints are made along the way: people of a coloured heritage are ruthlessly killed, people with disabilities also. The United States, broken into a group of splintered kingdoms, spend their time fighting amongst themselves until it is too late and they are unable to save themselves from the Chinese invasion, led by General Jiang Lei.
Whilst moving things along in the series on a global scale, this book is where we start to come to grips with the complex politics of the Chinese themselves. Strangely, but effectively, most of the global actions take place off stage, so to speak. We are told of the plans for the invasion but do not experience it directly. The fighting in the US, which was no doubt bitter, is told to us through the conversation made between General Jiang Lei and his mysterious co-worker strategist Amos Shepherd whilst playing the game of Go.
Of the other characters met in Book One, we find that life has also changed. Jake Reed finds himself being employed by SynGen who are trying to use his old skills in the DatScape for new means of global domination, this time in genetics and medicine. Jake’s son, Peter, now an adult, becomes involved in developing sciences for the company. The older Reed finds it difficult to adjust to the new regime whilst, tellingly, Reed the younger accepts it as something that has to be. As Jake has it pointed out to him, every day, through the natural order of things, the older people who are resistant to the new way of life are dying and being replaced by new people being born who know nothing else but the new way. The Chinese are playing the long game and are clearly winning.
This is not without difficulties. Jake is forced to go to court to maintain his pension and ends up confronting a seemingly unbeatable Chinese opposition that thinks of murder and extortion as a valid means of winning court battles. The world of the non-Chinese, the Han, is increasingly of less value.
It is here that we start to see the means by which the Chinese exert and maintain their power on a range of scales, from local politics to global domination, something which will develop more in future books. The actions taken to ensure power are dramatic and quite merciless. The author thinks nothing of killing and torturing characters to serve these means, which reflects the point that although there is a highly sophisticated social structure in this New World Order, the means of maintaining the structure are as brutal as ever.
The final section of the book, concerning an attempted coup, is both exciting and horrifying. The psychopathic Son of Heaven attempts to kill off The Seven, who have become increasingly concerned about his erratic behaviour. The actions taken on both sides are extremely merciless and very nasty. Families, friends and retainers are assassinated and slaughtered as the men of power manoeuvre for position. The ending is not quite what you expect, though it is clearly going to lead to some very interesting developments in future stories.
I did have some issues with the first book, much as I enjoyed it. I’m pleased to say that Daylight is a much more consistent and enjoyable novel for me. The experiences of Chinese society and culture continue to make a refreshing change. The complexities of court are reminiscent of The Godfather or even George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series (though this has always been a feature of the Chung Kuo books, even twenty years or so ago.) It has reminded me why I liked the original series so much. Daylight on Iron Mountain shows that the new series is starting to step up a gear and has become a must read series for me. You will still need to read Book One first, but this is a glorious development.
This is the second totally new part of the tale. The third book (The Middle Kingdom) is where the old series begins and one that I have read in its initial incarnation. I look forward to reading it a great deal and seeing how the new version fits in with this breathtakingly re-imagined series.
Mark Yon, September 2011.