*******THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
The Summer Queen by Joan D. Vinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In the sequel to her epic The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge creates a whole slew of worlds and characters that stand out among the worlds created by mediocre SF writers. The Summer Queen, Moon Dawntreader, forces her world to rebuild after the offworlders leave through the black gates after the last Festival. She convenes a sibyl college to help the Tiamatans recreate the technology that has been taken from them. She is met with anger, frustration, rebellion, and also enthusiasm and eagerness to become self-sufficient.
Along the way she discovers that the mers, the creatures the offworlders exploit for the life-prolonging water of life, are actually sentient creatures. At first she doesn't realize the import of this beyond the fact that the hunts for the water of life must be stopped. Eventually she comes to realize how vital they are to the survival of the Sibyl Net and sibyls on worlds everywhere.
While Moon is trying to make her world technologically self-sufficient, BZ Gundhalinu has become a sibyl and is attempting to stabilize the stardrive plasma on World's End so that the Hegemony can get back to Tiamat, and he can get back to the woman he loves. Reede Kullervo, also known as The Smith (which isn't explained until much later in the book), reaches out to him and helps him so that he can steal the plasma for his own organization, an arm of a greater force they both belong to.
Their worlds crash together when Gundhalinu brings the stardrive plasma back to the Hegemony. He is appointed Chief Justice of Tiamat and sent back to the planet early to re-establish the Hegemony's power and begin harvesting the water of life. But when he gets there he prevents the hunt, and resumes his affair with the married Moon Dawntreader. Reede ends up on the planet as well, trying to make a copy of the water of life for his own organization which doesn't require the destruction of mers and can be mass produced. Finally, the three players in the sibyl net's plan are together, and the possibility of saving itself can be realized.
I loved this book. My major problem with it was that it took me so long to read it. I started it on 6/2 and finished it three months later! There was so much in this book, it could have been published as two books instead of one. The first half is focused too much on world-building and story-building, and not enough on plot and progression. Also, in the second half of the book, the amount of sex scenes was completely overwhelming (and, in my opinion, quite unnecessary).
The character dynamics were extremely interesting. Once Sparks finds out that Tammis and Ariele weren't his genetic children but instead were Gundhalinu's, he completely shuts them out of his life. When Ariele's life is threatened and almost taken away, he realizes that he has been their father all along, whether they are his or not. I loved that he took the chance to save Ariele's life and did everything he could to get her back from the Source.
I appreciated the fact that Moon struggled with her passions for Gundhalinu for a long time before she gave in to them. She was loyal to Sparks in act, if not in thought. Sparks' infidelity bothered me because he hadn't been faithful to her and yet felt resentful that she wasn't being faithful to him. It made me very sad to see their relationship fall apart in such a drastic and dramatic way. The entire first book was their attempt to get back to each other, while this book was about their estrangement. Just goes to show that even if you love someone, it may not work.
The end of the novel was a little too quick. Tammis' death and the mourning that happens before Gundhalinu's release from prison on treason charges take up a mere couple of pages, while the queen's happiness at the end and the resolution between Ariele and Reede seem like they've been months in the making. In fact, it's only been a matter of days (possibly a couple of weeks). I'm glad, though, that everyone mostly got what they wanted, except perhaps Merovy, who lost her husband as he was finally trying to make it work between them.
There were a few plot points I didn't really understand, like when Reede tells the queen that Sparks is dead. Why not just say that he wants to leave and let her live her life with Gundhalinu? Maybe it was necessary for her closure to think that he was dead, and could give herself to the man she loves. I disagreed with that plot point. I also didn't understand the point of Ananke being revealed as a woman. It was only part of the story once, and then never again. She continued to be a man to all concerned parties, and even at the end she is still a man. Why bother? What did it add to the story?
In all, I could have done without all the sex, without the strange points that didn't contribute to the story, and I would have preferred this to be two books. I don't have a problem with long books when it's really necessary, but this was essentially two books in one, not just one long book. It was, however, overall a great book. If you've read The Snow Queen you should read The Summer Queen.
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