December 15, 2004

The Stars Asunder,
A Working of Stars,
by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald

These are the sixth and seventh books in the authors' Mageworlds series, which I've been re-reading and reviewing over the last few months.

When The Stars Asunder was published in 1999, Jane and I were excited; I'd read the previous books aloud to her to our mutual enjoyment, and this one looked to be a doozy. Set in the far distant past, long before the first Mage War, it promised to tell us of the first contact between the Mage Worlds and the rest of the civilized galaxy, and also to tell the story of Beka Rosselin-Metadi's enigmatic helper, the "Professor". We snapped it up the moment it came out, in hardcover no less, and I started reading it to Jane on the way home.

And, alas, we were greatly disappointed. I never finished reading it aloud; instead, we each finished it separately. And unlike the others in the series, it sat on the shelf, unread, until just recently when I picked it up prior to reading its successor, A Working of Stars. (It's some measure of my disappointment that the latter book was published in 2002, and I only just got around to it.)

Anyway, I approached The Stars Asunder with considerable curiousity. Was it as bad as I remembered? Had I read it fairly the first time? And I suppose the most honest answer is that it's better, and just as bad.

First, it's a different sort of book than the others in the series; it's slower paced, and there are fewer action sequences. Jane and I had the wrong expectations going into it, and so it's not entirely surprising that it didn't work for us. And, I was surprised to note that some of the amazingly stupid and awful scenes that I remember being so annoyed by aren't actually in the book at all. Apparently I dreamed them.

On the other hand, there are bad bits as well. There's a whole espionage and intrigue subplot that simply doesn't work: it's confusing, it slows down the main story, and although motivations of the characters involved seemed clear enough at the beginning I found them entirely mystifying by the end. The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying, and leaves lots of loose-ends floating about--and there's no indication that a sequel might be forthcoming. And then there's the centerpiece of the book, the first contact between a Mage ship and a freighter from the Civilized Worlds, which I still can't bring myself to believe in. Though, to be fair the scene's not quite as absurd as I thought it the first time I read it.

A Working of Stars is much more satisfying. It follows perhaps ten years after the finish of The Stars Asunder, and ties up a fair number of that book's loose ends (though by no means all of them), and it's got a lot more of that Space Opera Goodness we were looking for. My major complaint about it is that it seems to contradict things were were told in the second book of the series, Starpilot's Grave, though possibly there are reasons for that.

There's clearly room for yet another book in this part of the series, and I rather wish Doyle and MacDonald would get on with it.

Posted by Will Duquette at December 15, 2004 08:07 PM