In Too Like The Lightning, Ada Palmer introduced her vision of Earth in the year 2454, a time when technology, society, government, economy, and interpersonal relationships have evolved into something new, using the teaching of the philosophers of the past to model their future. Our narrator, and the primary lens through which we view this world, is Mycroft Canner, infamous criminal and enigmatic servant to the masses, who tells us of a future that is utopian in design though not in flavor; the first two books (of a planned quartet) see this tenuous perfection come close to shattering due to the machinations of those currently in power.
While the cracks are visible at the start of the series, it isn’t until the second book, Seven Surrenders, that the glass shatters completely, the tensions and frictions of the first novel coming to a head. The populace is reeling from the apparent assassination and resurrection of Jehovah Mason, the enigmatic heir apparent to global leadership. Bridger, the miracle child who seemingly bought Jehovah back to life, is gone; in his place stands the soldier of myth, Achilles. The Hives—the jockeying powers that are nation, corporation, and social caste in one—smell conflict on the wind. In book three, The Will to Battle, Palmer plunges us headlong into a world that knows war is coming, but has lost all sense of how to wage one.
As billions of people struggle to make sense of the miracle that has befallen Jehovah Mason, thousands are dead in Brussells, victims of a traitor’s terrorist attack. A plot by Mitsubishi hive, one of the world’s most powerful, to take over the majority of land holdings, has been exposed—as has the truth about O.S., a Humanist assassination ring that has helped keep the world stable for generations. Moreover, the survival of Mycroft Canner, infamous mass murderer, has become a scandal, and he attends his masters with wavering confidence, as each tries their hardest to stave off a war that would end the world. As the conflict grows ever more inevitable, Mycroft introduces Achilles to the Hive leaders; both he and the mythic, now-living legend hope to make it the best war it can be.
If it isn’t apparent by now, the Terra Ignota is complex and intricate—not to mention narratively engrossing and emotionally fraught. Certainly that describes The Will To Battle. In these uneasy months before true war erupts, Palmer doesn’t show us a world in which leaders lash out unthinkingly, trying to take down as many opponents as possible. Nor does she show us a world where hate, anger, and violence suddenly replace logic, compassion, and good will. We understand why the war needs to be fought, but Palmer never lets us forget that the people at the center of the conflict, flawed and exhausted as they are, and hoping that by working together, the can minimize the damage to the world at large. Even in disarray, this is a utopian vision of humanity and human nature.
The characters we’ve come to know are bruised, beaten, and looking for a way out, and I’d argue that it is here we truly see them as they are; with the world crumbling around them, their true hearts are starting to show. Jehovah concludes the war must happen, as a test from His Neighbor (his reality’s God). The Utopians show they are willing to risk their future for the sake of humanity’s. And Mycroft Canner, once the ultimate villain of this utopian world, now finds himself ragged and weeping over what it may become. Palmer pulls no punches as she digs into these raw emotions, bringing home the emotional honesty of what war is doing and will do to these people with stark, naked truth.
As ever, though, there is hope. And hope may be the deadliest of all. Characters constantly argue that there must be caretakers, healers, safe spaces, conservations of land—safe havens for those who cannot take part in the war. There must be an extant planet for the victors to claim. Alliances are built, plans are discussed, and futures are ensured, as Palmer shows us that even as we may spiral toward certain doom, there can be a grace and a kindness in how we arrive there.
The Will To Battle continues a staggering chronicle of a a strange future. This is transformative, challenging, and engaging science fiction, with a big heart and bigger ideas on every page, and music in every sentence.