Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the final book in the Starbound trilogy, and while I know three books is a real investment to make, this trilogy is worth it. It's also the case that while the authors make laudable attempts to explain what has gone before without bogging down this story, you really owe it to yourself to read the first two books (These Broken Stars and This Shattered World). I think it would be much harder to pick up on what's going on without this background.
But having read the first two books only deepened my enjoyment of the final volume, because all the stray threads are tied together and all the loose ends picked up. About halfway through this book, the four characters from the two previous books meet up with the protagonists of this one, and all six characters take it through the final battle. This shows some very good plotting by Kaufman and Spooner, and my hat's off to them.
Sofia and Gideon, the protagonists of this book, were actually introduced in the previous volume--Gideon is the Knave of Hearts, hypernet hacker extraordinaire, and Sofia is one of the inhabitants of Avon, the setting of This Shattered World. Both are used to hiding behind various masks and distrusting everyone they meet, and of course they are thrown together and must learn to trust each other to survive. Their relationship is a careful, hesitant slow burn of a romance (this book is marketed as "young adult," which is kind of a misnomer in a universe where sixteen is the legal age--Captain Jubilee Chase from the previous book talked her way into the military at fifteen--and the usual YA angst of our world is totally absent; the characters have the feel of mature people, regardless of their late-teen status) as they work together to defeat LaRoux Industries, the sociopathic corporation that is the real antagonist of the series. (We also spend quite a bit of time with Roderick LaRoux, head of LaRoux Industries, but in something of a twist, he is a broken, pitiable man at the end.)
The worldbuilding didn't knock my socks off, but it's perfectly adequate. This is space opera with terraforming, FTL and hyperspace, and an expanding human empire which depends on all three. (Although it's kind of funny to think of Gideon hacking his way through hyperspace. Where were all the cat pictures?) The outstanding element of this is, of course, what comes to be called the Collective, the incorporeal hivemind of energy beings discovered in hyperspace (which is their universe) and exploited by Roderick LaRoux. That's actually the weakest part of the worldbuilding; how on earth could a human contain creatures of pure energy, creatures with the power to create a perfect copy of a deceased person? There's quite a bit of handwaving there, but in the end I decided I could overlook this because the overall plotting and characterization was so good. This book really brought the Collective to life for me, with their asides between chapters.
(And by the way, who had the bright idea to print chapter 38, the one chapter in this book from Lilac's point of view, on gray paper? You'll know why when you get to that chapter. It's just brilliant.)
This book, and indeed this entire series, is one of the best I have read in a long time. Highly recommended.
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