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Posted July 28, 2012
Bryan Thomas Schmidt's second foray (of a proposed trilogy) into The Saga of Davi Rhii retains all of the "golden age of science fiction" feel of the first installment (THE WORKER PRINCE). The narrative buzzes along, the characters are relatable, and the story builds to an appropriate climax without feeling (as many middle books do) as though the author is treading water or stretching the word-count to justify a third book.
What can I say about the story in book two that will not spoil things for those who haven't read book one yet? Probably not much. Davi Rhii, the child of Vertullian slave-workers raised to be a Borali prince, has begun acclimating to his role as a cultural hero and figurehead of the new society that is emerging as the Vertullians are made full citizens of the Borali Alliance. His closest friends, Farien and Yao, and the love of his life, Tela, are by his side as he navigates the merging of the militaries who so recently fought against each other. But Davi's deposed Uncle Xalivar and his cronies are still on the loose, fomenting unrest across the Alliance from a clever hiding place.
Davi continues to be a likable but conflicted main character. He struggles to do the right thing in the face of both societal and familial/romantic pressure to turn away; he struggles to understand the reactions of the people he was raised among and the people he was born into; he struggles to comprehend Tela's growing anger towards the Borali. Basically, Davi is the balance point for everyone else, and he's not always perfect -- which is what makes him so enjoyably real. In the GA of SF Schmidt's writing harks back to, Davi would be The Infallible Hero. He's not. But neither is he naive (like Luke Skywalker) or jaded (like Han Solo), although at times he exhibits both of those qualities to some degree.
Schmidt has given himself a lot of narrative balls to juggle in this installment, and he deftly manages to keep them all moving. In addition to Davi's main thread, we also get to see the growing action from the point of view of a plethora of secondary (and some tertiary) characters. Most significantly, we see the struggles of the two women most important to Davi: his beloved Tela's struggles to accept loss and regain her sense of self and his adoptive mother Miri's dawning realization that the culture she was raised in may not be the culture she is most comfortable in. There's also the on-going struggle of Davi's oldest friend Farien to put aside childhood prejudices, and a variety of political and military machinations to keep track of. To the author's credit, we get to see into the minds of the people who work under arch-villian Xalivar so that they are not the blank cardboard cannon fodder so many "henchmen" (it's not the right term for Schmidt's characters, but you get the idea) usually are.
If there is one aspect of this book that shows improvement, it's the warfare scenes. Schmidt holds nothing back this time, almost as though he realizes that the reader needs to have a deeper emotional investment in the climactic battle than we felt with the big battle in the previous installment. Or perhaps it's because, for Davi personally and culturally, there is more at stake. Whatever Schmidt's impetus, the battle scenes feel at once cleaner and more chaotic, and I was far more worried for the safety of the characters I've come to love than I remember being in book one.
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