Published by Del Rey
Hardcover, March 2006
Judas Unchained picks up the events rather seamlessly after Pandora’s Star. Indeed, the two novels work more as a massive singular novel, a la Tad Williams Otherland. The Commonwealth has been attacked by MorningLightMountain and is preparing for a counterstrike against the hostile alien intelligence. The President of the Intersolar Commonwealth, Elain Doi, gathers the Senate along with the Dynasties and the Navy together in order to determine the best course of combating the unrelenting aliens.
A lot of the focus in the early parts of the novel concerns the humans affected by the prime invasion, how they deal with not just their cities destroyed, but their planets on the verge of destruction. As he did in Pandora’s Star, Hamilton shows great skill in balancing the galaxy-devastating effects of the conflict intermingled with the humans affected by the war. It isn’t always an easy line to straddle, but Hamilton, for the most part balances the big picture of the story with the individuality of the characters.
Ozzie Issac’s journey along the Silfen paths continues, following on the heels of his seemingly deadly ending at the end of Pandora’s Star. I thought Ozzie’s expedition through the paths paralleled the greater narrative of the story very well. It takes a while before Ozzie, Tochee, and Orion return to the worlds of the Commonwealth, but when they do, their presence is felt immediately. Mellanie Rescorai begins to play a more important role in the events of humanity in Judas Unchained as her experiences in Pandora’s Star makes her one of the more pivotal and important people in dealing with the primes. Hamilton did a particularly effective job in mingling Mellanie with Ozzie and his two compatriots upon their return.
Another return, so to speak, is the prime motile housing Dudley Bose’s personality. The motile is part of an attacking prime force, but because of its human psyche, it breaks away and falls in with the humans. In Pandora’s Star, Dudley is re-lifed and latches onto Mellanie, after making bold proclamations towards the end of the novel, blaming the Navy and the crew of the Second Chance for abandoning him. Dudley, the re-lifed human, is very needy and becomes somewhat possessive of Mellanie and jealous of nearly any many she speaks with or mentions. The Bose-motile is much more calculating and the anticipation of the Bose-motile meeting the re-lifed Dudley were very high throughout most of the scenes either character appeared. I don’t know if this was intentional on Hamilton’s part, but this plotline was very analogous to issues surrounding the cloning debate in today’s world.
While much of the novel concerns itself with devising a solution to MorningLightMountain, it is when a solution is discovered that the novel and story takes a turn for the more introspective and moral inquisitive. Primarily, Hamilton’s narrative poses the question of whether or not destroying an entire species is a viable solution for ending such a conflict. Is it the only option, especially considering your enemy is trying to do the same thing? Again, this is a moral question that armies and leaders must face in most wartime situations, and it was another instance where Hamilton brought the real-world issues into his epic saga.
The subplot of the Starflayer and the Guardians of Selfhood, while in more of the background in Pandora’s Star, becomes much more of a plot point here in Judas Unchained. Paula Myo, now demoted somewhat, is intricately tied into the subplot.
Suffice it to say, there is a lot going on in Judas Unchained; in addition to following upon plot points and character-stories from the earlier volume, Hamilton introduces some new things as well. In comparing one half of this massive novel to the other, Judas Unchained moved along a bit more slowly than its predecessor. However, like the previous novel, Hamilton really excelled at providing an immersive experience for the reader. By the time the reader jumps into Judas Unchained, and especially if read immediately following Pandora’s Star it is very easy to slip back into the Commonwealth Universe, the characters become recognizable and humanity’s struggle becomes very identifiable. When he laid out the Epic plot and story in Pandora’s Star, Hamilton gave himself a major task in trying to wrap up the story and continue the superb pace and epic scale of the narrative.
As I said, despite a slower pace and something of a deus ex machina ending, I think he did a wonderful job of weaving all the narrative strands, introducing all the characters and plots, blowing it all up and bringing it all back together. These are somewhat minor complaints compared against the whole picture, however. These two novels/one massive novel will stand as, if not landmark, then exemplary and prime examples of how Epic Space Opera should be done. The story is so rich and multi-layered that it almost begs a re-read. Fortunately, Hamilton’s skills are so varied and equally admirable that a re-reread is something to which I look forward. I would recommend these two novels without hesitation and with only a minor suggestion to read them back to back, as they are truly one massive story.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford