April 2004
2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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House of Reeds by Thomas Harlan
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765301938 PubDate: 04/01/04
Review by
Ernest Lilley
416 pgs. List price $ 0
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Interview: Thomas Harlan
Feature Reviews:  Wasteland of Flint

Other Links: Thomas Harlan Webpage
Oath of Empire (official site)
Shadow of Ararat / The Gate of Fire / The Storm of Heaven / The Dark Lord

In the Time of the Sixth Sun (official site)
Wasteland of Flint / House of Reeds

If you can't find a copy of Wasteland of Flint, the first book in this saga, there's no reason you can't start with House of Reeds, but on the other hand, Wasteland is out in paperback, and there's no reason to deny yourself the pleasure.

Set in an alternate future, in the 2400s, the story of Gretchen Anderson, Company archeologist, and her team of misfit co-workers, continues as they are diverted from a much needed rest to uncover the power behind the alien Artifact known as "the House of Reeds." If you've read Wasteland of Flint, which takes place on an empty desert of a world, you'll find the urban decay of House a real change of pace. The world of Jagan turns out to be a critical crossroad for power and plotting. The Imperial fleet has a massed force in orbit waiting to jump off to some conflict, but a force curiously lacking in Aztec or Nisei, and replete with officers with more polish than prowess. The planet itself is peopled by a race descended from starfareres, but whose technology collapsed on the metal poor world. And a the youngest son of the Aztec emperor has been sent to visit and possibly prove himself, in the face of native unrest. There are lots of players on the scene, plots within plots, and as in the previous book a fine balance between character and action throughout. The author, who is also a game designer (this future is based on a projection of the events in his Lord's of the Earth game) has been honing his strategic skills for decades, and though they pay off for me as a reader, I don't ever want to sit across a gameboard from him.

Into this pit of intrigue jumps Captain Hadeishi and the Imperial warship Henry R. Cornuelle whom we also met in the first book. Hadeishi has been keeping his ship out on its mission of fighting pirates and patrolling the border longer than he was supposed to because he knows that her time is up, his loyal crew about to be scattered to the winds. As he has no friends in the Emperor's court, this means that those that have served him so well will be sent friendless into whatever postings they are needed, sent to places where he cannot serve them as they have served him. But when he arrives in orbit to ask the fleet for repairs and rearmament, he is given neither, though neither is he sent home for the ship to be decommissioned. Instead, he is ensnared by a political spider web and assigned support duty for the troops on the ground who are putting down a native uprising. Left behind while the fleet jumps off to do glorious battle wherever it is going.

Hadeishi knows politics, even if he doesn't engage in them, and he wonders about the fleet's actual mission. Could they be a sacrificial offering, intended not to return? Or could his ship be the offering, and the point of the excercise to avenge the destruction of one warship, some troops, and an useless prince? If so, they've made the classic mistake of choosing the wrong fall guy.

Instead of Green Hummingbird, the Aztec priest we met in the first book, the political player here is a woman from an order that is in conflict with his. Instead of watching to see that the artifacts of the ancient race of the First Sun aren't disturbed, her order seeks to grasp their power for themselves. But the lady Itzpalicue's mission here isn't to find the artifact, but to subtly create an unfortunate incident that others can make their reputation from. A native uprising, a decimated legion, a lost warship...and a dead prince. These are the seeds she wished to sow. Also, she's hunting for a prey, someone elusive that is moving through the game and leaving little trace...but with someone who does not have share Earth's interests.

Throughout it all Gretchen and her team try to get access to an archeological dig under the control of academic archeologists who have asked the Legate to deny their petition. Gretchen discovers that certain lessons she thought she had forgotten have not left her completely, and she finds herself acting more on behalf out of respect for balance than to uncover a treasure.

If all that sounds complicated, it's only because I'm not the storyteller that the author is. In his hands all these threads come together effortlessly, and through the story within these covers he subtly advances the greater arc to come. Once you've gotten started reading this saga, you won't want to stop, but you'll either have to go back and read Wasteland of Flint, or wait for the author to finish Land of the Dead, the next title in this saga.

2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
columns - events - features - booksmedia        home  /  Join Mailing List