Queen of Candesce: Book two of Virga
by Karl Schroeder
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765315441
Date: 21 August 2007 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Queen of Candesce takes up soon after the first book, Sun of Suns: Virga, Book 1, leaves off, but while book 1 focused on Hayden's journey to adulthood and past revenge, this story strikes off with Venera Fanning, the wife of Admiral Chaison Fanning, who had gone with him to the artificial star at the heart of Virga, Candesce, to shut down the field that suppresses electronics throughout the gas ball. Virga, you see, is the only refuge from the virtual/real intermix of reality that exists through (post)human space. While Venera wants to shut down the field so that Chaison's fleet can use crude radar sets to repel a force out to destroy their home country of Spindrift, they discover that the outsider that is helping them has a deeper agenda of her own. Though she succeeds in her quest, Venera winds up killing the woman, and as a result chooses not to trust her fortune to Hayden, who had fallen in love with the alien technologist. So she kicks off into the winds of Virga, trusting that they will carry her somewhere she can get home to Spindrift from.
When Venera Fanning appears in the skies above Spyre, a massive construct spinning in the air, built a bit like an L5 colony, she's more than half dead. Venera is plucked out of the air by Garth Diamandis, once a Don Juan moving among the towns of Spyre, now a hermit living on the edge of society, scavenging whatever falls past the whirling town that he can net before it's dashed against the spinning hull. Garth takes the jewels he finds in her pockets as payment for saving her life, but passes over the worn cylinder in her jacket, unaware that it is undoubtedly the most valuable object in all of Virga…the key to controlling the fusion sun that is at the core of this ball of air, and a trophy of her adventures in the first book.
With Garth at her side as advisor Venera moves aggressively up the social ladder to become a personage of importance in Virga. Though it was once a wealthy state unto itself, times have gotten harder here, and for the common folk, it's closer to a prison. With Garth's help though, Venera becomes far more than a commoner, passing herself off as the missing heiress to one of the great houses of Spyre. From this position she can launch herself homeward to find out what happened after her husband's battle with Falcon's fleet. Unfortunately, word comes back to her that he is presumed dead and his brave foray against an enemy mounting a surprise attack is being used against him by the ruler of her home country of Spindrift. With bleak prospects as home and a growing retinue of people who depend on her as the head of House Buridan, not to mention allies among the revolutionaries seeking to spread democracy throughout Virga, she takes a stand against the houses that would bring her down in a power grab for all of Spyre.
One of the real treats in this series is the wildly improbably but ultimately reasonable constructs that Schroeder creates within the constraints of Virga. Spyre is a multilevel structure with varying degrees of centripetal gravity where the inhabitants wear weights according to their stations and degrees of spin. Most of the time all you have to worry about in a civil war is whether or not the nation will survive. Here, on an aging construct spinning fast enough to create gale force winds on its outer hull, warfare might devastate more than the population, tearing the very fabric of Spyre apart.
With Queen of Candesce, Karl Schroeder's Vigra saga establishes itself as an SF saga of the same order as LeGuin's Earthsea stories, Asimov's Robot stories, and Niven's Ringworld stories. Mentioning Niven is especially appropriate, as he's the only other author I know of that thought to create a world of air without ground below it, in hisIntegral Trees. Much as I love Niven's work though, Integral Trees doesn't hold a candle to the saga unfolding in the big bubble known as Virga.