There Before the Chaos epitomizes the space opera genre, weaving a complex universe with a powerful protagonist and a story that utilizes political intrigue, space travel, and a strong history. The novel is an extension of an existing universe, but it stands mightily on its own. Wagers is an expert at dialogue and discourse, taking you directly into the action that unfolds after the dust of war has settled. Prepare to contemplate the trappings of power and the consequences of actions that could put an end to the universe.
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review. I only publish reviews of books I enjoy, and this novel meets that criterion.
A Few of My Favorite Things
Hail is a powerful character with an epic past that is constantly piercing through her Empress persona. She’s a gunrunner at heart, and any fear she might show of her new duties is purely due to a lack of experience. She overcomes her trepidation quickly. It’s clear from the beginning that these characters have known each other for decades (There Before the Chaos is an extension of an existing character’s storyline, a fact I wasn’t aware of). It’s a brilliant book without the past, and the author does a great job giving us the details we need. I got so immersed in the story and the tidbits of history that I desperately want to read the existing trilogy.
The supporting cast of characters is equally impressive. Each has baggage brought along from the previous books, and this first book of the new series sees them unpack it and start to deal with it. Hail is defined by her fiercely close relationships with those around her, and it comes through in the form of a story you want to follow.
I found the political discourse to be the true art of the novel. The majority of the book was one political issue or conversation after another, and it’s always exciting and compelling. We’re getting a rare glimpse of the diplomatic side of a space opera government. The wars have passed (however briefly), the cleanup has started, and there’s a mess of issues to figure out. It was unexpected and most welcome. Wagers has created one of the more intellectual science fiction novels of the year.
I’m floored at Wagers’ ability to write dialogue. I would liken There Before the Chaos to the equivalent of a brilliantly-written Aaron Sorkin screenplay. Most of the book takes place in dialogue, discussing the tense political climate, the past war, or the potential conflicts on the horizon. There’s a ton of action in the back quarter of the book, but early on, the dialogue really shines.
So much is happening behind the scenes of the ongoing narrative. A war is being fought, one that has raged on for thousands of years between two immortal races. Hail is trying to bring her planet back from the brink of destruction. So much is going on and it’s all delicately choreographed to keep you interested, engaged, and moving forward at a great pace. A true space opera is EPIC in scale, and There Before the Chaos fits the bill.
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