Karl Schroeder’s Virga series, of which Ashes of Candesce is the fifth and final volume, appears to have been more popular with critics than with the general reading public. Which is a pity, because (as I have noted before) it is one of the, quite possibly the best Science Fiction series in recent years, if not ever – unparalleled in both the scope and the depth of its imagination, the originality and the thoroughness of its worldbuilding. It is also somewhat puzzling, because even with all the breath-taking concepts and the well-founded science, the whole series is immensely readable, a highly entertaining romp filled with adventure – chase scenes! secret missions! swashbuckling! space battles!
Which points to something that is truly unique about this series (at least I can not think of anyone who would have done anything similar; I might be wrong, of course), namely the way it seamlessly blends the more fantastic, over-the-top variants of the Science Fiction genre with actual, hard science. It is no small achievement to write Planetary Romance in a Steampunk-ish setting in a way that makes sense and is scientifically sound – but Karl Schroeder boldly went where no man went before, and actually pulled it off, and managed to make it a whole lot of fun to read as well.
And in that, this final volume is no different from the previous ones – what started out in Sun of Suns as minor war between two nations of Virga has by now been revealed as part of a galaxy-spanning conflict with Candesce as its much-coveted prize. In Ashes of Candesce, the rivalling factions make their final move, last gamble that will decide which way life in the galaxy will develop, and things culminate in a grand, riveting finale during which the reader encounters some new protagonists and many familiar faces from the preceding novels – most notably, the incomparable Venera Fanning, my favourite character in the series, who here is as charming and as ruthless as ever.
Try as I may, I simply cannot understand why this has not been recognised as the genre classic that it is (although I suppose that Tor’s somewhat weird publishing policy has played some part in that), and I strongly encourage everyone to go out and get Sun of Suns and start reading it. Like, now.