Sometimes the middle books in trilogies are the worst ones, because they're not required to start anything or to finish anything, just fill the gap that sits between the beginning and end. Sometimes, though, they're the best, for precisely the same reason. They're not hamstrung by having to begin or end, so they can get right down to business and have fun with it.
While I haven't read the last book in Ian McDonald's 'Luna' series yet, I'm leaning towards the latter being the case here. Gone are the detailed set of introductions to ground us in the history and politics of a wild west moon and the five major dynasties fighting amongst themselves for power. Gone is the stylistic play. And gone, of course, are the Cortas, for the most part, wiped out in McKenzie attacks at the end of 'Luna: New Moon'. Now, we start by taking stock and by launching right back into action.
Not all of the Cortas are dead and they're the family whom we're following, so we check in with each of the survivors. Lucas is alive, though nobody on the moon knows it except the Vorontsovs who are helping him train to get to Earth to build his revenge. Ariel is in hiding, low on friends. Lucasinho is in Twé with Abena, though that doesn't last long, Abena shifting to Ariel as her assistant. Wagner is working up on the surface. Robson is now both ward to Bryce McKenzie and a traceur. He starts out this book by falling 3km and walking away a sensation.
The McKenzies are doing wonderfully, having just destroyed the home and the heart of their prime enemy, Corta Helio. That doesn't last. Everyone in the family finds their way onto Crucible, the ever-moving McKenzie train for the boss's 105th birthday party. What they find is death, when a Corta triggers a decades old back door to cause Ironfall, burying these people in thousands of tons of molten metal from the smelters above them. 188 die, including the boss, Robert, and his wife, Jade Sun.
There's lots of plot progression from here. There are only five dragons on the moon, those five dynasties, and two have just been slaughtered in vast numbers. The whole balance of the Lunar economy needs to be restored and, as you might imagine from a set of power hungry people, that naturally isn't as important to them as what power they can grab while everything's uncertain. You'll have to read the book to find it where it all goes, but a heck of a lot goes down here.
While I was generally happy for this, I did miss the cultural edge of 'Luna: New Moon'. There's just too much danger for this one to get kinky. There are hardly any moments for frivolity. Maybe at the festival of Zhongqiu and then it's back to survival, plotting and revenge. What culture we get as readers is perhaps in a deeper exploration of Wagner's werewolf pack. It seems that their lycanthropy is a sort of bipolarism and they live on a lot of meds. It is an interesting take on dual natures.
I'd like to talk more about what goes down, but it's easy to slip carelessly into spoiler territory on this one. I will mention that Lucas Corta does get down to Earth, where he has a busy schedule searching for help. One place he gets help is back home in Brazil, where he finds Alexia Corta, the Queen of Pipes, plumber to the neighbourhood. If this is a chess game of a book, she is the new piece snuck onto the board while nobody else is watching, because Lucas brings her back to the Moon and she finds herself at the very heart of his plans to reestablish the Cortas as a force.
I liked this book a lot. With most of the Cortas and the McKenzie's dead, it becomes a sort of Luna: New Moon: The Next Generation, because the old guard are gone and the new guard are reaching their potential. I'm looking forward to seeing what the kids will achieve in 'Luna: Moon Rising'. I'd name which ones I'm talking about, but that could easily constitute spoilers too. Let's just say that power shifts in this book, not merely from family to family, dragon to dragon, but from the old to the young.
I'll wrap this up by once again highlighting just how much this is 'Game of Thrones' on the Moon, but there are still nods here and there to classic sf, particularly to Robert A. Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress', which travelled some of this ground half a century earlier. Different times make for different books, but there are easy comparisons here and Ian McDonald is aware enough to highlight that cleverly soon before Lucas Corta must return to the moon or face complete physical collapse in superior gravity. He tells his nurse, deadpan, "Earth is a harsh mistress", and he's not wrong. See you next month for the grand finalé. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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