Tor, 2014, 672 pages
Twenty years after the elemental conflict that nearly tore apart the cosmos in The Saga of Seven Suns, a new threat emerges from the darkness. The human race must set aside its own inner conflicts to rebuild their alliance with the Ildiran Empire for the survival of the galaxy.
In Kevin J. Anderson's The Dark Between the Stars, galactic empires clash, elemental beings devastate whole planetary systems, and factions of humanity are pitted against one another. Heroes rise and enemies make their last stands in the climax of an epic tale seven years in the making.
My previous experience with Kevin J. Anderson was not very positive. Anderson has written a lot of tie-in fiction and collaborated with Brian Herbert on a sequel to Frank Herbert's Dune novels. The Dark Between the Stars is his Hugo-nominated sequel to a seven-book series called the Saga of the Seven Suns, and the beginning of a new trilogy.
Not having read any of his Seven Suns books, I was dubious about diving into something that is a sequel to a seven-book series. The Dark Between the Stars is loaded with so many characters, cultures, and references to past history that it's pretty obvious it's following previous work, but for the most part, the story moves along with adequate amounts of exposition, so while the worldbuilding gets dense at times, I was never lost.
I wish I could say it carried me away, because I do love a good space opera. This, however, was strictly mediocre space opera. It's hard not to make snide references to the author's tie-in fiction background, but this book really did feel like an overreaching attempt to achieve what other, better writers have done. The galactic civilization populated by various ancient races who have ancient prophecies and ancient lost technologies, etc., an existential threat to all living beings, mysterious quasi-spiritual beings who drop clues and special powers on specially selected characters, all the tropes are here.
In a nutshell, human descendants of something called a Hanseatic League (undoubtedly a major part of the previous series) and the Ildiran Empire (aliens who can apparently interbreed with humans - I have no idea if this was explained in the previous series) are chugging along together more or less peacefully when shadow beings called the Shana Rei, referred to in ancient Ildiran texts but always vaguely and cryptically, naturally, come out of nowhere with a hankering to literally destroy the universe. They acquire a murderous race of warrior robots as allies, begin attacking human and Ildiran space, and are only driven back in a climactic final battle when some of those aforementioned special characters with special powers summon some special aliens to stop them.
There are also a lot of subplots, some of which are interesting if undeveloped, others which seem to exist only to set up characters who will be important in the next book.
There are "Roamers" (space gypsies), warrior princess daughters of the Ildiran Mage-Imperator (yeah, really) who fight with crystal-tipped katanas (yeah, really), and a bunch of other space opera stuff.
The problem with the book is that it's packed with ideas but none of them are particularly original, and it's packed with characters and none of them are distinct enough for me to remember their names a few days after finishing the book, with the exception of Zoe and her minion Tom Rom. The two of them are "villains" in the B-plot, skulking around the galaxy collecting all the viruses they can find for Zoe's private collection, but like all the other characters, their personalities are defined by a few monochrome traits.
This was not a terrible book, but it was not a very impressive one. It reminded me of watered-down Dan Simmons or Peter Hamilton, or professional quality Star Wars or Babylon 5 fan fiction.
Entertaining enough for what it is, but the qualities it possesses to make it worthy of a Hugo escape me. 5/10.
Also by Kevin J. Anderson: My review of Tau Ceti.
My complete list of book reviews.