12,000 years in the future, on a planet far, far away, a country boy named Tulzik Ambroz tracks the man who killed his sister Vika, following him across the poisonous crater that is all that remains of the planet's starport, into the great city of Ragbaan -- Ragbaan, site of the planet's original settlement, heart of a civilization that has repeatedly risen to astonishing heights of power and technological prowess, only to fall, every time, back into barbarism. How can Tulzik find his quarry in an anarchic city of three million souls, where the technology of the ancients is considered magic?
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Lawrence Watt-Evans surprised me with this one. I usually prefer his light fantasy novels, although his rare forays into science fiction, cyberpunk/mystery, and even horror have usually been quite good. But Vika's Avenger is something a bit new for him: science fiction, but with a sense of depth and a richness of culture that put the book into that relatively rare category of SF with a fantasy feel to it (I'd put Zelazny's Lord of Light in the same category, and also Silverberg's Majipoor series). I really liked this one! It got harder and harder to put it down as I read it. As with his best books, the protagonist is actually intelligent - not perfect, and certainly he makes mistakes, but for the most part he's bright and sensible. And those attributes pay off. In many genre books the protagonist misses the obvious, or does stupid things because otherwise there wouldn't be enough of a plot to pad out the book to a saleable length. That's not the case with Tulzik in Vika's Avenger. He's a believably bright and decent young man with a purpose. And I have to praise the setting. The city of Ragbaan and its inhabitants are engaging, exotic, and rich, with tantilizing depths and hints of mystery: wonderfully complex, but not so complex as to be off-putting or confusing. I want to read more about Ragbaan, and given the care that Watt-Evans has lavished on this one, I strongly suspect that he'll write more stories set there. I hope he does. As for the story itself, it's a very pleasing combination of SF, fantasy, and mystery. It's not dark, although I wouldn't categorize it as light, either. It's just one of those extremely well-written books that carries you along and makes you wish there was more when you get to the end. I'll be reading it again.