The Last Emperox (The Interdependency book 3) by John Scalzi (book review).

The barely understood spatial phenomena called the Flow has allowed ships to leap across the vastness of space between human colonies. It is the Flow that has allowed the Interdependency to flourish for a thousand years. The precarious civilisation of the Interdependency is coming to an end. Cardenia Wu-Patrick ascended the throne to become Emperox Grayland II only to discover that the Flow was collapsing and now, only short months into her reign, the collapse has begun. Billions of people are already cut off and billions more will follow if she can’t find a way to save her people.

There is a single planet in the whole Interdependency where humans can breathe outside and not die in a vacuum. End is not prepared for an influx of refugees, possibly millions or even billions of them. Even if the infrastructure was in place, the planet itself would be ruined. Who gets to go to End and live?

We all knew what was coming. The title of the first book, ‘The Collapsing Empire’, definitely warned us. For most of the first two books, Cardenia, theoretically both spiritual and secular ruler and Marce, imperial mathematician and boyfriend, have struggled to get others to understand the oncoming apocalypse. Now that star systems are actually being cut off, the merchant nobility is finally beginning to get a move on, just in a less altruistic way than Marce and Cardenia. It’s the end of the world and they had better get what cash and revenge we can before it’s too late. The lower classes presume that the political system will sort things out. Which is true. It’s just that the ‘them’ the rich will be looking after is ‘themselves.’

Nadashe Nohamapetan is angry. Despite multiple assassin attempts, Emperox Grayland II is still alive. Nadashe has never been nice, the list of her murders and attempted coups is proof of that. In these times, though, isn’t a pragmatic and unemotional stance called for? Hard decisions must be made. Billions of people are going to die and managing that necessity is something she can do. If she were in control.

There are no options, but Cardenia wants to save everyone. She is Emperox. Of them all.

Do you cut off your foot to save your body or do everything you can to remain while? How many morals can you keep if you want to save the human race?

Three women run this series. Cardenia is more of the classic ‘nice girl’ heroine with the rags-to-riches story. Kiva is the rich, cranky bitch that never had to worry about much but loves a challenge. Kiva is still my favourite because she is a bitchy, swearing and competent force for chaos. Then there is Nadashe, who will murder literally anyone to gain the throne if she can’t politic her way there.

Gender is not put aside, as in Ann Leckie’s ‘Ancillary Justice’, but is equally irrelevant. Marriage and babies a dynastic means to an end and babies are barely mentioned at all. Two women do meet up to talk about a man because two political allies met up to talk about a political opponent. The breasts or lack thereof in a character is not an issue. The title of Emperox was specifically created to be gender neutral and the figure that is Emperox in the pages of history could be any gender, preference or colour and there would be no change.

The only male point of view character is Marce Claremont. Marce is great. The only guy who really understands the science of what’s going on so his expositions flow nicely into the narrative rather than feeling shoehorned in or mansplained. He is, essentially, an assistant. The man at one side of the hero and happy to be there. It’s not an unsettling gender inversion, it just is. Because it should be.

I really thought that this had turned into an on-going series rather than a trilogy right up until the last fifty or so pages. Even though it says ‘conclusion’ right there on the cover. I’m sad that it’s over. The people could have so many more crises and solutions and things to do, but I’m also glad it’s over because so many great stories continue only to trail off disappointingly.

Is the end too much a sudden stop? While the ending is much more broad strokes than some would like, I don’t think this is a bad thing. We knew from the beginning that the Interdependency would collapse. Part of story-telling is choosing what to include and what to exclude or tip a hat to in passing. The political world of the Interdependency is so crazy that even with the loose ends nominally tied up at the end, who knows what these crazy capitalist nobles will do?

I like a nice tidy ending as much as the next person, but I also think that such an ending in this case would have made me sad. The Interdependency is such a large world. Ending with broad strokes leaves me able to use my own imagination to fill in some gaps and make some predictions. The threads that were tied up satisfied me, but others might be angry about the lack of certain, specific answers.

In spite of the creatively lethal political methodology or maybe because of, this book had me laughing out loud several times. I would recommend ‘The Last Emperox’ to fans of space opera as a genre, even without aliens or military plotlines. I enjoyed this series from start to finish and I strongly discourage anyone from reading out of sequence which, I am told, some people do for some reason. The cast of characters is large but maintains a core group of point of view characters that stops things spiralling out into confusion a’la ‘Game Of Thrones’ or ‘The Wheel Of Time’. The story does come to a natural conclusion, despite the possibility of more and it was great to have a compact series.

LK Richardson

January 2021

(pub: TOR, 2020. 320 page hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), $36.50 (CAN), £19.99 (UK). ISBN 978-0-7653-8916-9)

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