Queen Of Nowhere by Jaine Fenn (book review).
When an author lovingly creates a universe, giving it a plausible background history and spreads it over a vast area of space, it seems a shame to waste it on one book or short story. It takes time and energy to make them and such universes have a nasty habit of evolving. There are a number of ways of dealing with it. One is to ignore it and hope it goes away, despite the clamour of fans for more of the same. A number of more constructive methods have been used. In the early days of SF, an author (or house of authors) would churn out more adventures of the same characters. Witness the long runs of Ted Tubb’s ‘Dumerest’ series or the German originated ‘Perry Rodan’ books. At the time they were written, character development wasn’t an important consideration. Now it is and series such as Laurel K. Hamilton’s ‘Anita Blake’ series see the main character changing as she encounters various life-threatening situations. Katherine Kurtz has her political overview of her world evolving in the ‘Deryni’ series, though in some ways she cheats by going back in time to set books earlier in the sequence. An alternative approach is to use the background but to set different, apparently unrelated stories within it. This is largely what Iain M. Banks did in the ‘Culture’ novels. The universe is recognisable because of certain features carried over from one to another but the overlap of characters and worlds, though present, is mostly incidental.
Jaine Fenn takes a slightly different tack to all these. The main plot thrust is the idea that a race known as the Sidhe once dominated humanity as it spread throughout the universe. After a rebellion, it is generally believed that the Sidhe were all killed. A small group believe otherwise. In other novels in this series, we have met three of them, Jarek, Taro and Nual, who is actually Sidhe but has turned against her kind. She is also an Angel – a physically and mentally enhanced assassin. Taro, her lover, is on his way to becoming an Angel, but his implants are new. Jarek owns a spaceship. Between them, they have cut off the source of the kernels needed to pilot the translight spaceships. They are not the only ones engaged in the battle against the Sidhe.
‘Queen Of Nowhere’ follows the efforts of Bez to bring down the Sidhe. We first met her in ‘Guardians Of Paradise’, the third book in this sequence, when Jarek asked her to decipher information he had stolen from a wrecked Sidhe ship. She is a databreaker and probably the best hacker in known space. For a long time, Bez has known that the Sidhe are still around, influencing human activity from within. The information Jarek shared with her has given her a good idea of who and where they are. Her problem is how to expose them all, preferably simultaneously so they cannot alert each other, change their identities and hide. Bez has set up a network of people in positions to do small but significant acts which will have larger consequences and help her achieve her ends. She is aware that the Sidhe probably know what she is up to and needs to stay one step ahead. To this end, she has spent years building up funds in various places and has a bank of identities to assume to help her physically navigate space.
As Bez closes in on the information, she needs to put her plan into action and feels the Sidhe network closing in around her. At one point, she enlists Jarek’s help to get her out of a sticky situation but pulls a disappearing trick when she discovers that Nual is Sidhe.
For much of the time, Bez feels that she is fighting a lone battle – she dare not trust anyone – but on Tarset station, a space-hub and a way station between destinations, she encounters Imbarin Tierce. He becomes an unlikely ally in her life’s work.
In a situation as complex as the one that Fenn has set up, it would be impossible for a handful of adventurers, which is basically what Jarek and co. are, to bring about the downfall of a race that that has had centuries to embed itself into human society. The introduction of another prong of attack is a good move and Bez is an interesting character. She is skilful and highly motivated.
In each of the novels in this series, there is a different flavour depending on the setting for the segment of the tale. In ‘Queen Of Nowhere’, it is very much the traders in space type of novel with a hint of the lives at different levels of the society and reflects the kind of scenario C.J. Cherryh visited in the ‘Chanur’ books. Bez, though, passes through the hubs too quickly to fully appreciate the lives of those in the different echelons of the society within the complex structures, which are different from the floating cities of ‘Principles Of Angels’ but where the lives of the inhabitants were explored in greater depth. Perhaps a later novel could give a greater insight into this part of this universe. ‘Queen Of Nowhere’ does progress the story and there is enough left hanging to make the reader look forward to the next instalment.
(pub: Gollancz. 340 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-09699-8)
check out websites: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.jainefenn.com