Reviewing a sequel is always difficult, because the deeper I get into a series, the more spoilers from previous books there are that I have to be careful not to reveal in summarizing the plot of the latest installment. I won’t dwell too much on plot elements here. Let it suffice to say that Capt. Robbin Nikalishin is sufficiently recovered from the trauma in his past that he embarks on a new chapter in his life, but one that brings with it new challenges.
Taylor’s world-building continues to be first-rate—I particularly enjoyed her depiction of the Martian colony and the delightful term she uses for the Red Planet’s settlers: “humartians.” The sprawling world is rich with plenty of detail and a huge cast of supporting characters.
There are more philosophical asides in this book than in earlier installments—commentary from the narrator on the protagonist’s highly questionable and emotional decision-making. This is more of a romance than the previous ones. Maybe “romance” isn’t quite the term—it’s a true biographical novel, as the subtitle implies. As I was reading it, I realized that in many ways it’s a throwback to an older style of novel: the long, winding sort of tale popular in the Victorian era. Except, of course, set in the 28th century.
There’s a hint of spirituality woven in, too—as in one scene where Nikalishin and a character by the name of Fedaylia High Feather speak with a priest—or “prayst,” as he is called in the Eirish dialect. It’s a powerful scene, and reveals a lot about the characters. I won’t say much about Fedaylia High Feather. How can you resist wanting to meet a character with a name like that for yourself, eh? But I will say this: I think it’s interesting that we are informed she was born on April 30, a date which followers of this blog may recognize as the semi-obscure holiday of Walpurgis night, a sort of Spring equivalent of Halloween. And Nikalishin, of course, was born on Halloween itself. Whether the author had this in mind when choosing these dates, I don’t know, but I thought it was interesting.
As previously, Nikalishin’s pathetic inability to form normal relationships with women continues to be a problem for him, and made me want to shout “Oh, grow up, man!” And to be clear, this is a criticism of the character, not of the writing. Taylor succeeds quite well in crafting a careful portrait of Nikalishin’s extremely irregular psychology.
I would love to talk at length about all these peculiarities of Nikalishin’s, as well many other things, but the fact is, more people need to read these books first, and I won’t risk spoiling them for others by discussing details here, when there is a very real chance this may be the first time some readers learn of their existence. The world of The Man Who Found Birds Among The Stars is one that more science fiction lovers need to discover for themselves.
Nice review, Berthold! I have to admit I never noticed their birthdays; you may be onto something there. Yes, these books have a philosophical element, but the world in which they happen, and the wealth of characters make them congenial places for the reading brain.
Thanks so much for another great review! I hope you’ll continue with Part Four: Survivor (remember the damaged eagle from the Prologue?), where all of Robbie’s problems and conflicts come to a head. I personally think Part Four is the best of the lot. The first four parts form a kind of unit; after that the plot takes off in another direction.
No, I wasn’t thinking about Walpurgis Night when I put Fedaylia’s birthday on April 30. I just wanted her to have a birthday at that time for the plot’s sake. I put Robbie’s birthday on Halloween because I thought it added some irony, especially the Day of the Dead association.
inventing the Mars Colony was a lot of fun!
And of course Wilda (who was meant to be a sort of modern-day Wise Woman character) understands Robbie perfectly. The complexities of the word “love” often come into my writing – you’ll recall that early on, Wilda explains some ot those complexities to Robbie. She will always love and support him but not as a husband, and she recognizes that his infatuation with the self-absorbed and devious Fedaylia can only turn out to be a disaster for him.
Don’t worry too much about spoilers – I tweet so many lines on the writers’ hashtag games that the whole world knows most of the plot already anyway.
If you don’t mind, I’ll post this over on my blog and also cite it in other places.
It may be a little while before I get to it, given my huge TBR list, but I’m really looking forward to Part 4!