Karl Schroeder’s Virga sequence is undoubtedly one of the best science fiction series in recent years, and in my opinion even among the best ever. It is almost like a small encyclopedia of science fiction in itself in that it showcases so many of the forms the genre takes – planetary romance, golden age adventure story, hard science speculation, singularity and steampunk. And the wonder of the series is that it pulls all those elements into a believable and even plausible whole and turns them into a compulsive read. I really cannot praise this series enough and it should be on the reading list of everyone with even a passing interest in what science fiction is, has been and can be.
This fourth volume (weirdly, I seem to be reading a lot of fourth volumes of series recently) is a bit of a departure for Schroeder’s series – Pirate Sun resolved all the threads of the various characters introduced in Sun of Suns. The Sunless Countries introduces a new main character, a historian named Leal Maspeth, and also shifts emphasis somewhat – there is a lot about the big picture in the rest of the galaxy here, and for its ending the novel even ventures outside of Virga for the first time; also, similar to the development of Leal in this novel, it has less swashbuckling and significantly more politics than previous volumes. It is not less of an exciting read for that, and I already pre-ordered the fifth volume Ashes of Candesce which is due for release in February 2012.