Okay, so, this one is definitely going on my Top Two for 2020 list. In fact, I should take a stab at compiling a top ten list for 2020, just to see if that is possible. I read so few new-to-me books this year, it might be tricky. If I do a Top Whatever list at all, though, this book will certainly be on it. I read this as a reward for finishing the draft of Tarashana, and I am slowly re-reading it now.
900 pages, wow. And yet, I kept feeling mildly disappointed when the story skipped lightly over a couple years here or there. Definitely not too long. The pacing didn’t even seem slow, although actually I suppose it was.
Things to know about this story:
A) Nothing terrible happens. The story does become intense at times. Almost all the intensity has to do with relationships that are fundamentally becoming more solid over time.
B) The setting is superb. Want a story with a non-European setting? Here you go. Also, Goddard is magnificent with description.
C) No romance. Lots of friendships and lots (and lots) of family. Also, culture clash adds considerable complexity, another feature that is beautifully handled.
D) A fantastic main character. Cliopher is a genuine Great Man, who re-shapes the world over the course of the book. Unassailable integrity, diplomatic genius, vision, empathy, plus enough sheer nerve to invite the Sun-on-Earth to his home for a vacation.
E) A slowly unfolding backstory. A whole lot happened before this story opens. Cliopher is not a young man. We gradually hear more about his earlier life as we move forward in the main story. Goddard works all that backstory in so smoothly that it does not interfere with — in fact, enhances — the main storyline.
Overall conclusion: People, listen you have got to read this book.
Oh, fine, let me see. All right: if you love the Foreigner series, you have to try this. That’s the closest I can come. Except this one has fewer crises where anyone is shooting at anyone else.
Suspension of disbelief gets a trifle strained here and there. In particular, Cliopher’s immediate family and closest friends remain unaware that he is the second most powerful man in the empire, even after:
- The emperor personally says, in their hearing, that Cliopher is the most important figure in the government.
- Cliopher’s nephew starts working for him, and knows with total clarity that Cliopher is this important. Even after that, the nephew’s mother, Cliopher’s sister, does not realize this.
- Halfway through the book, that sister and Cliopher’s mother and others are visiting and the sister says, in dawning comprehension, “Cliopher! Are you RUNNING THE GOVERNMENT?” And a friend whoops with laughter and says, “Are you just now realizing that?” Yet,
- Years later, Cliopher’s best friends back home still don’t have any idea he is important.
At that point, you just have to let this important, central, crucial relationship-building plot point go because there’s no way to believe it. A fig leaf is offered to explain this. That doesn’t make the situation actually believable (at all) but it helps a little.
Despite that quibble, this is definitely a wonderful book. After I finish re-reading it, I will certainly go on with others of Goddard’s books. In fact, I can’t wait.