The Sea Peoples (The Change)
by S.M. Stirling
Cover Artist: Larry Rostant
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Ace Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780399583179
Date: 10 October 2017 List Price $28.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Prince John is trapped. He is nonresponsive to anyone, but he lives. His friends go in search of him in another plane of existence. The rules are special and a slip-up could mean death. Meanwhile, the forces of Montival are marshaling under the guidance of Órlaith. Along with Empress Reiko and Alan Thurston, they must be ready for both obvious and hidden assaults. But betrayal can come from many fronts.
The action is split mainly between Baru Denpasar and Hawai'i. Lady Phillippa "Pip" Balwyn-Abercrombie helped the locals fight the dark forces in their area, the problem is that if her allies find out that John is not just concussed, they will demand he die, as no one has come back whole from the shadow realm. With help, they enter the shadow realm and using personal links begin to track the missing Prince. There are multiple steps and a large portion of the action is following the path and avoiding the dangers of the various locales.
In Hawai'i, Órlaith treats with the leaders to negotiate a base of operations and aid during the coming war. If readers know the history of Hawaii, they can make a good guess as to what will be coming. Also, simple solutions and quests are never a part of the post-Change world.
This is a later novel in an established universe. As such it is not the best starting point for new readers. There are a significant number of characters with a backstory or family histories which have been developed in prior novels or in story collections. The action takes place over forty years since the event which changed the world with the children and grandchildren of the original main characters now leading the way and few alive who remember the world as it was.
Stirling has created an interesting and intricate universe where a change to the gas laws prevents the use of explosive force and electricity. Nearly all modern technology stopped working. Technology based on hydraulics, low air pressure, or basic mechanical forces work just fine putting the world at about a medieval level of technology. Although no longer the centers of everything, the old cites are still sources of sought-after raw materials.
Although an interesting side story, it seemed a little forced and at just over 300 pages, it is a relatively short novel in the series. I liked learning more about Pip's past, but I would have liked to see more progress towards the confrontation with Pyongyang. Another new bit of information will play a major role in future novels. It is a deeper look into the many worlds affected by the change and how the fight between the various powers play out.