Wednesday, September 8, 2021

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Necropolis Empire by Tim Pratt


Full Disclosure:  This book was read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy) obtained via Netgalley from the publisher in advance of the book's release on September 21, 2021 in exchange for a potential review.  I give my word that this did not affect my review in any way - if I felt conflicted in any way, I would simply have declined to review the book.

The Necropolis Empire is another new space opera novel by author Tim Pratt (The Axiom, Doors of Sleep).  It's the second novel of his that's actually a tie-in to the board game, Twilight Imperium, after last year's "The Fractured Void" (my review of that is here).  I have no background knowledge of Twilight Imperium, but still really enjoyed The Fractured Void, which featured that combination of fun dialogue, funny characters and situations, and general space opera that I really enjoyed in Pratt's "The Axiom" trilogy ("The Wrong Stars").  That book also ended with a potential sequel hook, and so I was curious to see if that would be followed up upon when I saw Pratt was writing this one.  

And the answer is no - this is entirely a stand alone novel compared to the last one (only one character returns from The Fractured Void) although it is still a very enjoyable one.  It's not quite as fun as The Fractured Void mind you, because our main protagonist and the side protagonist, from whose perspectives two thirds of the novel take place, are entirely earnest and good natured, and so the fun antics of the book come entirely from the main bad guys.  The result is a well crafted if fairly typical space opera novel, with some twists you will see coming a mile away, but it's enjoyable enough that you could do a lot worse, and Pratt's prose and dialogue remains excellent.  

------------------------------------------------Plot Summary---------------------------------------------------
Bianca Xing has spent her lifetime on a planet forgotten by the galaxy, gazing up at hte stars, and wishing there was more for her life than simply continuing her family's farm or romancing the boy she doesn't really care about.  She can't help yearning for the stars...or particularly for an area in the night sky in between three specific stars she can't help but stare at, night after night.  

And then her planet is annexed by the Barony of Letnev, and Bianca is told by one of their officers that she is secretly a space princess from their race.  And so Bianca finds herself going out into the stars after all.  

Of course, Bianca is no dummy, and she knows that space princess story is utterly bunk.  But the real reason why the Letnev want Bianca is even stranger than she could have imagined as she soon realizes as her body adapts to space in the most peculiar ways, leading her on a journey that could change the galaxy forever.....for good or for bad.
The Necropolis Empire is a pretty classic space opera story - girl from a planet who wishes to go to the stars, is clearly special in some way connected to something out there, gets the chance for adventure to fulfill her destiny and has to make a choice at the end that will save or doom the galaxy....yadda yadda yadda.  You will see a lot of the plot twists coming well before they occur - and to Pratt's credit, he makes his heroine Bianca pretty self-aware, so it's not like she or the reader is expected to be surprised by any of it all.  

And well, the characters themselves are pretty fun and enjoyable, which makes even the most predictable journey well worth taking.  As our heroine, Bianca is the typical girl who dreams of more, but as mentioned earlier she's also fairly self aware of when things are too good to be true, and her unique genetics give her physical and mental capabilities that allows her to surprise even herself, which makes her very enjoyable to follow and see what she'll do next.  She's not really unique as a character archetype, but she is done very well, is fun in dialogue, and is easy to root for as that girl who wants more but also doesn't want to hurt anyone else in getting it.  Then there's our secondary protagonist, Heuvelt, a human guy who was from a rich privileged family and went out on a life of adventure...only to get into trouble, get betrayed by the man paid to be his friend, and now finds himself searching for a way to get back to adventure with his two alien companions.  It takes him a while to cross paths with Bianca, such that his small points of view beforehand often feel pointless, but he's enjoyable still as a sardonic and sarcastic viewpoint on this world. 

And then there's Severyne, the Letnev captain who returns from The Fractured Void, who serves as our 2nd most prominent point of view character and one of our major antagonists.*  Sev is a lot of fun, the member of the disciplined strict heirarchy military faction, the Barony of Letnev, who is very sarcastic and self aware of how ridiculous things can get, and is willing to play with that to get what she wants.  Her dialogue and situations, especially with her subordinates, is what makes up the bulk of this book's humor, and it's incredibly enjoyable.  If Pratt does write a third book in this universe, I hope she returns again, because she's probably the highlight of this one, and the other two characters aren't bad, they just aren't quite as fun.  

*As noted before the jump, there's no need to read The Fractured Void before this, as the most its referenced is in a few off hand comments by Sev, and Sev's character is perfectly established on its own here without any foreknowledge.* 

All this takes place in a world that clearly will be more familiar to those experienced in the board game, but even if you're not, you'll enjoy the various parts of this world that are introduced.  So yeah, the plot isn't particularly surprising, but it's well done, the characters are solid, and the dialogue - especially Sev's - is a lot of fun, so you could do a lot worse than to pick up this novel, even if it would hardly be one of the first space operas I recommend.  

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