Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald (book review).

Things are changing on the Moon as the third volume of Ian McDonald’s Luna trilogy, ‘Moon Rising’ kicks off. The remaining four Dragons of the Moon and their powerful and rich families are still plotting and fighting amongst themselves while the remains of the Corta family live in exile and fear in several supposedly safe locations spread across the habitats of the Moon.

New addition, Alexia Corta, recently arrived from Earth, starts to make a name for herself as the fixer and enforcer for Lucas Corta, heir to the Corta house and for a long time presumed dead. The Moon, referred to by the locals as Lady Luna, still has numerous ways to kill and, in an environment where the most trivial mistake can prove fatal, the various factions of Lunar society are quite willing to lend a helping hand to the Moon to polish off their enemies.

New powers have arrived from Earth, representatives of wealthy and powerful countries who view the Moon as nothing more than a backwater and its Families as mere cartels squabbling over resources. Suddenly, the entire future of the Moon is put in doubt or at least the future of the society that the Moon’s inhabitants have developed out of chaos over several decades.

In this third book, the characters are well-known and well-established, the complex history of their relationships forming a complex backdrop to the plot. The various organisations and locations are becoming familiar to the reader, yet Ian McDonald manages to reveal yet more layers and organisations and powers that stand behind, alongside and outside what we have already come to know. It’s on a much smaller scale, but it put me in mind of ‘Dune’: the families, secret societies, various guilds and organisations.

It seems there is always something new to be discovered. There is, fortunately, a glossary of all of the characters and other interesting bits of information about Lunar society, which is rather useful considering the number of characters. I was beginning to find it difficult to keep track of who was who.

Even as the plot becomes more intricate and the layers of complexity grow, Ian McDonald maintains an air of realism in the background. The non-technical descriptions of the ballistic transport system, the moonloop and the theory behind much of the Moon’s infrastructure seems reasonable even, if in practical terms, it may be a bit far-fetched. This trilogy teeters on the brink between space opera and hard SF, not really falling easily into either camp but offering its own unique take on the near-future Moon scenario that has featured in several books of late.

The ‘Lunar’ trilogy does not have quite the same lyrical quality as Ian McDonald’s other books: ‘Desolation Road’, ‘The Dervish House’, ‘River Of Gods’ and ‘Brasyl’. I guess in terms of tone, it’s closest to Brasyl, but meshed firmly with a hard SF sensibility.

In terms of a trilogy, ‘Moon Rising’ is a satisfying conclusion to the intricate tale of the five Dragons and their families and the numerous threads that spring from this tale. Ian McDonald hasn’t ruled out further stories in this setting and in fact has a novella out already from TOR. It’s always a nice feeling, though, to come to the end of a trilogy and not be left perpetually hanging for the next volume. Whatever he tackles next, I shall be sure to keep an eye out for it.

Gareth D Jones

November 2019

(pub: Gollancz, 2019. 437 page enlarged paperback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-21675-4)

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