Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Throne of Madness, by S.P. Somtow

This week I'm reviewing the second book in the Chronicles of the High Inquest, titled The Throne of Madness. And if it seems that it's a little early for me to be going into the second book of this series, as I usually tend to stretch a series out over time, well after I had revealed I'd hunted down a copy of Light on the Sound, my friend foisted the second book upon me and I hate borrowing books longer than necessary so here we are.

I realize in my last review I didn't really talk about the overarching plot, and in a way we hadn't quite gotten to the plot itself yet. Make no mistake, Light on the Sound has its own plot, but I feel that as a book it serves more to introduce us to characters and establishing events, which set a further series of events in motion in The Throne of Madness. But to provide some context for my dear and gentle readers, here goes: At some point in the distant future humanity discovers an artificial world towards the center of the galaxy surrounding a black hole. By feeding stars into the black hole, the planet is able to tap tremendous energy, including the ability to create tachyon bubbles, which I think are the only means of instantaneous interstellar flight. I'm a little fuzzy on the details because it's certainly not the only method, and the characters talk about time dilation during travel between planets to it's all a little vague. However, with the power of this planet, as well as the tachyon bubbles, a group known as the High Inquest is able to establish a sort of government over the millions of worlds inhabited by the Dispersal of Man and the Inquest has ruled for twenty thousand years. It's only in The Throne of Madness that we begin learning more about the Inquest and their methods, which were fairly ambiguous in Light on the Sound.

Central to the Inquest's is the tenet that stagnation is bad for humanity and it is the Inquest's duty to stir the pot every now and then to make sure things change. This manifests itself in two main activities that Inquestors concern themselves with, utopia-hunting and makrúgh. The Inquest believes that utopias can only lead to stagnation and decay so they should be hunted out and destroyed to prevent such stagnation from occurring. Makrúgh, however, appears to be a board game where Inquestors play over the fates of planets which results in real interstellar wars being fought and planets being torched to cinders. Just to keep things from getting too boring. (Again, this isn't very clear and it seems that anything Inquestors do can become part of a game of makrúgh. Somtow seems to vacillate between the frustratingly ambiguous and the refreshingly direct.) The plot revolves around a growing rejection of this predominate ideology and the weaknesses that it entails. So it's a philosophical work, but with spaceships and winged cats and whatnot.

There's actually quite a lot going on in this book and for a work this grand in scope you might expect it to be considerably longer. However it's only about 250 pages long, making it actually a bit of a lightweight. Somtow certainly could have expanded his story into something like the thousand-page tomes that Song of Ice and Fire has become, but by keeping it short we certainly never lose track of the action either. And as I said in my review of Light on the Sound, Somtow sometimes devolves into passages of the prettiest purple prose which can be a little annoying, but he also can be straight and to the point. Throw in some really creative and at times disturbing imagination on the part of Somtow, and you end up with a book with a fairly high WTF? factor. But at least it isn't boring!

I will say that The Throne of Madness was a little more interesting for me than Light on the Sound because it went into more expositionary information. And boy do I love exposition. I'm sure I'll have the other two books thrown upon me as well, so look out for the reviews. If nothing else, it's definitely different and memorable.

- Kalpar

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