Probably spoilers for Chase the Morning.
Ah Stephen. Forgotten the Spiral, really? At least it didn’t happen immediately… still, it shouldn’t be a surprise that your brain couldn’t cope with the weirdness for very long. Too much career, too many one-night stands, to enjoy.
Until it reaches in to grab you again.
In Chase, a lot of Stephen’s hollowness seems to stem from his long-ago break-up with the lovely Jacquie. Here, Stephen has got himself – and his company – involved in a project to ship the cargo of a charity irrigation system to Bali precisely because of her name. But the project is dogged by malign forces, it seems, such that they cannot organise to move it any closer to Bali than Bangkok. And with a little bit of pushing from external forces, Stephen Fisher – the Hollow Man, defeater of nasty forces last time he ventured into the Spiral – manages to find his way out of the Core again, and sets up a rather unusual method by which to deliver his cargo. It involves an ancient steamer, a seven-foot tattooed Maori, and an outlandishly mixed crew. Also another magician-type, although Ape is nothing like Le Stryge, which is about the best that Stephen can hope for. Cue adventures.
As with Chase, many of the awesome things I remembered are indeed still present. I love Rohan’s descriptions of battles, and also his evocation of sailing – be it on seas or stranger tides. The very idea is still utterly captivating – sailing into the dawn or dusk, into the clouds! – as is the idea that places have shadows. Actually, perhaps they’re closer to Platonic ideals, since they capture what is and was and will be; the essential nature of a place, even if never actually existed anywhere but in the imagination of very many people. And the idea of moving out into the Spiral as somehow refining people, as well as places, is also a wonderful one for story.
Also as with Chase, there are a couple of things that bugged me, and the main one was Stephen and his hang-ups. While the first book was mostly all “woe, I am a hollow man!”, this book is replete with “woe, I done wrong by Jacquie!” – which he did, right enough, but I could have done with a little bit less breast-beating. He does, true enough, make some attempts at restitution – and he was pretty nasty, so maybe I should cut him some slack as his conscience actually teaches him a lesson. But I didn’t have to be subjected to everything going through his head every time; it could have been indicated with a sentence or two, easily enough, especially the fourth or fifth or tenth time.
Also, bit of eye-rolling casual sexism. Irked me. It mostly does all right on the not-racist front – which, given it’s set largely in South-East Asia, is a relief. There are some bits where people’s mannerisms or characteristics are referred to as ‘oriental,’ at which I cringed a little, but on reflection those things are not usually coded negatively so… yeh, not sure what I think about that. But the inherent desire of the book is to balance tradition and ‘progress’, and I cannot fault that.
The other thing I cannot fault, and found also in Chase, is the very suggestion that there must be something MORE. More than career, more than sex-as-an-end, more than selfishness. Stephen finds that in action, but also in helping others; Mall and Jyp and others find it in becoming, and doing, what they are meant to be. It’s a worthy aspiration.
Is it very different from Chase? Well, the intention of the adventure is different, and Stephen doesn’t have to go through all the rooky, learning-to-be-on-the-Spiral stuff, so things happen a bit more immediately. There’s more sexual tension; there’s also more at stake, which I think made it work as a sequel. If it had been yet another “save that girl!!”, I am unlikely to have bothered. Plus, quite different places and different villains, which is great.
The Suck Fairy has been kind.