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The Killing of Worlds: Book Two of Succession by Scott Westerfeld
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Andrew Brooks
Tor Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765320520
Date: 30 September 2008 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Book Two of Succession, The Killing of Worlds, takes up right where The Risen Empire left off. I'll launch right into the review in the same manner. Captain Laurent Zai, previously allowed to forgo ritual suicide in order to stop the Rix battle-cruiser from contacting the Rix AI Alexander, has successfully stopped a mutiny and now plans to lead his crew on what he assumes is a doomed mission. Terrified that the Rix AI will leak the secret he's been keeping from the entire Eighty Worlds, the Emperor hasn't given Zai any other choice. That basically sums up the first part of this book, as Westerfeld spends a huge chunk of this novel focusing on Zai and his crew's attempt to destroy the Rix battle-cruiser, before trying to escape the super ship once they fail.

As in the first novel, the focus doesn't rest entirely on Zai during the battle, but also flashes back to his time with Senator Sara Oxham. I enjoy a good POV shift, but in the middle of what was set up to be an intense section, it bothered me. It removed the urgency from this part of the book, the way the POV shifts during the hostage rescue did in the first novel. After a few back and forths I found myself wishing they'd just get the thing over with and move on to something else.

Fortunately, the second major thread in this book made up for that. Following the Rix assassin, h_rd, Westerfeld does a better job in this novel of presenting the Rix in a more interesting way. I came away from the first novel thinking of the Rix as a Borg-like race. They weren't really the bad guys, as Westerfeld paints his characters in shades of gray, but they weren't all that relatable. However, like any good book or movie with beings more machine than not, all it takes is a relationship with a human to make the character interesting. It's the contrast between h_rd and her lover, the human side of her drawn out, that made it work. Westerfeld also did a fantastic job of creating suspense with regards to her mission. From one book to the next my interest shifted from Zai to h_rd and I didn't expect that. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just a product of the space battle with the Rix stretching a little too long.

I wanted to like The Killing of Worlds more than I did. Westerfeld's writing is lean and mean, and the guy has created a fascinating world. But the focus of this second novel was a little too lean, a little too narrow. While Zai's battle with the Rix battle-cruiser had some wow moments, it took too much time. As important as the battle was with regards to the Emperor's secret, I never felt like the war rested on more than a dozen people. And it didn't.

The Emperor's secret, when revealed, wasn't much of a surprise. But that's ultimately how I felt about both books. The setup in the first novel was there. A giant universe filled not with aliens, but with humans facing fairly unique SF problems. There was also a new take on space warfare that I hadn't read, but did enjoy. While The Succession was a decent read, it's not the next great space opera epic. Go in with the right expectations and you'll enjoy.

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