[ bookreviews ]
John Meaney, for this fittingly apocalyptic climax to the Nulapeiron sequence, has pulled out all the stops and pounded his literary opus into overdrive. This is space opera on a bellowing, sternum-tightening level of audacity and, while some of the general influences may seem overly familiar, the cumulative effect is one of a work jam packed with power and resonance.
It's surprising to think that just four short years ago we were watching hero Tom Corcoriganís first tentative steps into his subterranean world. Now, by book three, he's single-handedly hauled himself up the greasy pole of planetary politics to stand a lord among men, no mean feat for one whose arm was amputated for an earlier misdemeanour. En route he's thwarted an attack by an uncaring entity call the Blight, he's all but conquered his inner alcohol-fuelled demons and he's learned a vast amount about the mysterious pilots - a mu space dwelling race of navigators. He is, by all accounts, a seeker, a mover and a shaker but, as is the lot of any intergalactic hero, his time of quiet reflection at the start of Resolution is sub-atomically brief; Blight was just the offspring of an even bigger, even more insidious entity called the Anomaly (picture an X-rated version of the Borg and you'll be on the right wavelength), and once again it's down to Tom to save the day.
What raises Resolution, and the whole Nulapeiron sequence, above being another pot-boiling hero quest, is its characters and the intricate way in which Meaney poses them throughout his ambitious plot arc. Tom is obviously the main focus of the action, but the use of dual narrative and overall ensemble feel to the piece makes this a highly rich and multifaceted text. Although, it has to be said, there are some characters who fare better than others in the limelight stakes this time round.
Tom's foppish but lethal adversary, Trevalkin, is wonderfully fleshed out, moving from potential antagonist, through cautious informant to uneasy ally. As a temper and foil to Tom's meteoric rise, he's near perfect - a Mercutian vision of bravado and wit.
Then there's Ro McNamara and her children, Dirk and Kain, who carry the sub-plot within a historical holo cube that's being read/viewed by Tom. As the first born among the pilots back on Earth, their tale is one of racial discrimination, governmental intrigue and the long, hard road to acceptance and integration. It's a compelling distraction, made all the more so by the strength and security this otherworldly family unit exhibits while holding up against the odds.
However, for each of these personal expositions, these wonderfully detailed exercises in character exploration, there's another long running personality that gets regrettably sidelined.
Chief among these has to be Tom's love interest, now wife, Elva. She's the all-action, boy-toy-loving, assassin-about-town that fans of the series have come to love. With Resolution, though, her nature becomes cloistered by the increased geopolitical influences that dominate Tom's focus. There's also the slightly trite inner circle arrival of Jissie, a monodexterous youth of the rising cult of Lord One Arm who the central couple unofficially adopt. While the juxtaposition of the two post nuclear families - the Corcorigans and the McNamaras - does create an intriguing balance between plot and sub-plot, the cost to Elva's character seems a questionable trade off.
The battle android Axolon, Tom's former servitor Adam, Lord Corduven... Just three more examples of previous players now relying on their earlier strengths to fatten out the sketching they receive in Resolution. It's almost as if this conclusion is too short and that Meaney, while creating a cracking pace, could have easily bulked out the page count in the edit.
This one shortfall in structure aside, the author still skilfully delivers on just about every other front. The whole history, mechanics and predictive powers of the seers reaches a fittingly twisted climax, and the overall weirdness of the piece happily maxes out - a feature best embodied in the severed, floating head of Eemur, Tom's chief counsel.
There's also more than a fair share of nail-biting action - doomed but brilliantly heroic battles against the Anomaly - a healthy spread of epic vistas and a hanger full of innovative biotech vehicles that'll no doubt promote coos and appreciative whistles from the tech heads. All of which add to counter the more familiar elements and influences that genre fans may well pick up on.
There's no shaking the fact there's more than a little bit of Dune about the major themes within the book. Aristocratic family groups struggling for control of a planet, the preferred use of blades over projectile weapons among this class, a central hero with predictive abilities reshaping the world's destiny...
Meaney does cleverly side-step direct comparisons in a number of ways - Tom's pauper to prince ascension and the cavern structure of Nulperion's environments to name but two. But the main factors that differentiate this book from Herbert's classic are the author's emotive use of character, as examined earlier, and his equally empathetic employment of language.
There's an excellently contrived moment when Tom draws upon his powers of Logosophy - again very similar to the persuasive skills of Dune's Benegeserate - to secure his position as Nulapeiron's Warlord Primus. He precisely target's his words and gestures at the gathered nobles in an attempt to get them to unite behind him, each nuance a closely rehearsed act of influence. And in this we can see Meaney obviously mirroring his own work as an author. His words, through Tom, affecting and directing the reader's thoughts and emotions until the fictional events described lodge under the skin and begin to feel tangible, even real.
There are moments when reading Resolution - and, indeed, the whole Nulapeiron sequence -when you will react with shock, when you'll feel compelled to answer the rhetorical call to action, when you'll want to cry, want to despair... Moments that raise the trilogy high above the Dune-esque also-ran this could so easily have been.
Meaney might well be at a disadvantage when it comes to creating a believable world that strikes a lucrative chord within the genre zeitgeist. But, when it comes to rounded, emotive characters, Tom Corcorigan wins hands down against the cool aristocracy of Paul Atreides any day.