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Seven Surrenders: Book 2 of Terra Ignota Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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Praise for Book 2 of Terra Ignota, Seven Surrenders
“A breathless and devious intellectual page-turner, Seven Surrenders veers expertly between love, murder, mayhem, parenthood, theology, and high politics. I haven't had this much fun with a book in a long time.” ―Max Gladstone
"Wonderful 18th-century style narrative voice....a richly and highly sophisticated novel that calls for repeated re-readings." ―SFRevu
"The eloquence ofPalmer's reflections on social issues cannot be denied." ―Library Journal, starred review
"Palmer crafts one of the most compelling narrative voices around in describing this impossible, fascinating and plausibly contradictory world." ―RT Book Reviews, 4-1/2 stars
Praise for Book 3 of Terra Ignota, The Will to Battle
"It is increasingly clear that we are in the hands of a new master of the genre....There's a resonance and richness to the Terra Ignota series that is like almost nothing else being written today." ―RT Book Reviews, 5 stars
Praise for Book 1 of Terra Ignota, Too Like the Lightning
“Bold, furiously inventive, and mesmerizing…It’s the best science fiction novel I've read in a long while.” ―Robert Charles Wilson
“More intricate, more plausible, more significant than any debut I can recall…If you read a debut novel this year, make it Too Like the Lightning.” ―Cory Doctorow
“Astonishingly dense, accomplished and well-realized, with a future that feels real in both its strangeness and its familiarity.”―RT Book Reviews (Top Pick)
"The Terra Ignota books are is the kind of science fiction that makes me excited all over again about what science fiction can do.” ―Jo Walton
“Excellent.” ―Craig Newmark
“Devastatingly accomplished…An arch and playful narrative that combines the conscious irreverence of the best of 18th-century philosophy with the high-octane heat of an epic science fiction thriller.” ―Liz Bourke
“Palmer proves that the boundaries of science fiction can be pushed and the history and the future can be married together.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
ADA PALMER is a professor in the history department of the University of Chicago, specializing in Renaissance history and the history of ideas. Her first nonfiction book, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. She is also a composer of folk and Renaissance-tinged a capella music, most of which she performs with the group Sassafrass. She writes about history for a popular audience at exurbe.com and about science fiction- and fantasy-related matters at Tor.com.
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"Only Utopia thinks the future is more important than the present, that there are worlds that we could make which are worth destroying the one we have here."
This book, this book... It's almost impossible to rate for me. Is it four stars because it's so hard, so dense and not a facile read (no breezing through this book, readers, and the change of audio narrator was maddening although that criticism is unfair because Ada Palmer probably has zero control over anything to do with the audiobook contract) or 5 stars because it's so fricking stunning? As you can see, I have split the difference with the 4.5.
This series is hard to review, as well. What can I give you without revealing major plot points? Yes this is sci-fi and yes it's a ultimately a dystopian rather than utopian world view. That's the simple take and yet it's a pale description of these books. Ada Palmer gives us a long dystopian gaze at future history, and at what a failure "utopia" is, both as a concept, and as in the case of this particular seven Hive-run world. (I talked about my love of hives as a concept in my review of Too Like the Lightning.) But this book is also a political thriller, and the politics are just as complicated as the failed philosophy that informs the world that Mycroft Canner (and briefly, Sniper Saneer) have tried to tell us about. I am quite sure I have never read a science fiction series quite like this, and you probably haven't either. The world, its language, its use of gender, of the unwinding of the ideas of enlightenment, are utterly unique. These books make you ask many fundamental questions about human nature, society and what a world can and should be.
What if the idea of utopia is a fallacy? What if, by merely envisioning its boundaries, its structure and rules, we have already gone astray? Can you really force people to abide by rules in a utopia? When you think of utopia, you probably never think about the price of utopia. How is it maintained and at what cost? Who pays the price and who exacts that price? In the end, are you propping up merely a façade of utopia, with a bunch of lies and morally questionable actions? Who leads in utopia, and why? Can one ever lead for a greater common good or is human nature such that we are always ultimately limited by our self-interest? Who is this utopia really for? Can it ever truly be a genderless, areligious society? Is that sort of utopia even compatible with our fundamental human nature? Are we always questing to assign a simple, binary gender identity, or to find something, someone, to believe in, worship? Are all miracles that occur in a utopian world doomed to fail because utopia itself does not work? Terra Ignota is seeking to understand these questions. We may not like what some of the answers say about human nature, however.
All that said, I have my quibbles with the plot and the world Palmer has built for us. While classism/elitism certainly still exists in Palmer's world, racism seems to have been resolved and is pretty much a non-issue. While that's a refreshing take, I'm not sure I completely buy the idea that racism is not an issue, while gender secretly remains a prominent one. I especially find Madame D'Arouet's path and role regarding the reintroduction of gender somewhat unconvincing, although I find the power of her Salon to be a pleasing echo of the 1700 and 1800s. Other things to quibble with... Carlyle, where is Carlyle? Carlyle was one of the most relatable, likeable characters and their absence is felt. And while this book is resolved as part two, and an immediate continuation of book one (Too Like the Lightning), I felt as if I was left hanging off the edge of a cliff at the end of Seven Surrenders. Yes reader, this is a very odd kind of cliffhanger, but a cliffhanger it is. But Ada has me hooked now. The Will to Battle cannot come out soon enough.
One thing I would note for readers is that you may want to think about the format you read this book in. I listened to Too Like the Lightning as an audiobook. It was hard, I got lost, and then bought the eBook to try to figure out names and search for threads of connection. With Seven Surrenders I started with the audiobook, moved to the Kindle eBook and now have decided to (gasp) order paper so i can make notes. Yes, you need notes. And if ever a series needed a Wiki site, this one does. Someone should send a message to Romanova about it. Step away between books and when you return you'll be asking about 'bashes and hives and Graylaws and Blacklaws and Cousins and it goes on and on. You'll need to keep it straight if you are following the political endgame.
So all in all, if you are looking for a challenging read, Terra Ignota is the series for you. You will need to have history, philosophy and a number of current social issues (religion vs atheism, gender, including non-binary gender issues) under your belt or within your quick reach for research. But this thought-provoking series is worth your time, reader. And Mycroft Canner, its charismatic narrator, will lead you along a path of wonderment.
The one thing I have to say bothered me in this book was Mycroft's continued belief in Gender Essentialism. The problem with it is that at this point, I can't tell if the author also believes in the things Mycroft believes. Sniper bears the weight of Mycroft's antiquated beliefs in this book so much that I start to wonder if the author stands by these statements as something SHE would say to an intersex person. Sniper is basically called an "it" and a "hermaphrodite" the whole book, and the intersex community would be livid to hear that being said. It makes sense that Mycroft, mister Enlightenment, would say and believe those things... but does the author hold the same views? I hope she's a bit more educated on intersex terminology and literature, but I'm too scared to ask her and possibly offend her! Egad.
Gender Essentialism aside, great read, especially if you enjoyed the first book.
Kyria Ada floats symbolism worthy of Melville; from Heinlein to Homer (Mycroft indeed), yet rather than skulking about the skiffs (I'm looking thru you Fedallah) her totems helm the seas of this tale as bouys mark the channels.
Aye, and sure this cast includes some loathsome critters - life isn't farcebook - now nor then ye varmints! While one needn't consult Strong's Concordance to savor the flavor - starting at Book One is recommended.
I had a similar reaction to both books. I love the characterization skills and obviously the world building. I’m inspired with the world’s ethos and political organization of that present. Like with Tolkien and Martin there is a depth of culture, history, art and philosophy underlying everything. Perhaps even more so here since the author is a history of ideas scholar and that adds some complexity and richness so you can get the transmission history along with the as-it-is-today context.
I felt the prose was not always doing justice to the ideas and the plot shifts were jarring at times. There are moments of soaring lyricism and patches of lumpy word junk. Fortunately most of the book’s writing kept me interested, pondering, shocked, grossed out and often moved.