Second books of trilogies often sag – partly under the weight of expectation, partly because most authors only have a story to fill two books and try to spin out the tale. Colin Greenland avoids this. To begin with, I suspect that the first Tabitha Jute story was meant to be a stand alone, but the ideas wouldn’t stop flowing after the first book finished. So, a few years later, we had a second book (and later on a third which made up the trilogy). Then there is the fact that the tale falls neatly into three self-contained sections, each with its own arc. And finally, the books are about a person as much as they are about a series of events.
That last reason is especially applicable to this book. In essence it is a journey. On the surface, it is an interstellar voyage. Beneath the surface and within the spacecraft, it is the transformation of characters and a whole society. Deep within, it is about the mental disintegration of Tabitha Jute and the first signs of her emergence back into what we might loosely call sanity.
All three levels are handled expertly as a single story. The journey is the contrivance by which the society of disparate persons is isolated. Their development and the inner journey of Jute are one and the same as the spacecraft (the size of a large asteroid) is also depicted as a brain. The goings on within the spacecraft are an analogue of the goings on within Jute’s mind.
This sounds fairly heavy, and it certainly has its moments, but on the whole it takes up the sense of fun that was evident in the first book and runs with it. The result is a chaotic romp, a gallimaufry of a book. It is vivid, exciting, engaging, has its tongue very firmly in its cheek whilst contriving to poke that tongue out at some ripe targets.
And it is a work that refuses to insult the intelligence of its readers. Whilst the world building is evident and comprehensive, it isn’t spoon fed to the audience. There are times (a lot of times) you have to engage your grey cells and get them to do some work. For me that sets this above most science fiction which relentlessly plods through everything that the author has compiled just so you get the picture, both of the book and of how clever the author wants you to think they are.
Greenland doesn’t need to stoop to such low tricks. This is a book that is fun to read, in which characters and plot are in perfect balance, in which we are treated to really good writing, in which serious points are made, and which I will definitely return to again.