Returning to Ada Palmer’s Paradise
The Terra Ignota series has introduced us to a future society that has managed to stand apart as a unique enough concept in the annals of science-fiction literature. In the first book we were led through the world and allowed to explore it in tremendous detail, to get acquainted with all the people who populate it, how they think and what they do with their lives. We got to see the inner workings behind the curtains, the familiarities and differences between our world and that one. More importantly, we got acquainted with Mycroft Canner and Carlyle Foster, two people on the fringes of society who are about to herald the coming of a new age, and with it an innumerable array of questions about human nature, ones that generally have no answer. In Seven Surrenders, the second book of the Terra Ignota series by Ada Palmer, the political game heats up even further as the carefully-built and maintained balance is about to be torn asunder.
To give you an idea of how the plot continues without spoiling anything, in the last book Mycroft made the discovery of a tremendous conspiracy that has managed to remain behind the shadows for God-knows how long. In order to maintain peace and stability the leaders of the principal nations have resorted to selective and targeted assassinations to prevent any one of them from taking the reigns of power into their hands. The blood spilled has served its purpose for many generations, but all good things must come to an end, and on the horizon uncertainty and the possibility of war are beginning to ominously loom and cast a shadow over this paradise, about to be upturned.
The Most Complex Game
To begin with, I’d like to warn potential readers that this isn’t the kind of story that can be classified as a light reading. I mean that in the sense that the writing is quite dense and each sentence feels like it carries a lot of weight and meaning to it. You can’t just breeze through one page after the other and expect to be able to follow the thread adequately. This is the kind of book where you need to take your time with each paragraph and process all the information you’re being fed.
Of course, this isn’t merely a result of the author’s writing style. A central focus of this book is the political game that is being played between the many factions and its effects on the populace. The amount of twists, turns and intrigue could very well match the Victorian Court as a million and one schemes are being concocted by pretenders with their own personal agendas. As someone with a bit of a problem when it comes to remembering names, I actually had to keep a few personal notes to remember who belongs in this universe’s politics.
With that being said, the complexity definitely pays off as in the end I can safely say that was thoroughly entertained by the tension and unpredictability of the plot. While I didn’t exactly root for anyone in particular, I still found myself invested in the general denouement and the lasting impact it could have on this world and all the people caught up in the maelstrom. If political games are interesting to you, then rest assured that this aspect of the book will certainly prove itself as a strong point.
Reflections on Life and the Universe
As was the case with the previous book, this one is also heavily geared towards the exploration of philosophies, ideas and hypotheticals. Ada Palmer explores the idea of a utopia in as much depth as she can, asking whether it’s truly possible and what it would actually take. Can people be forced into a utopia? How can they maintain it? What price would we have to pay for worldwide conformity and cooperation? Would human nature even allow for such things? From there we delve into plenty of other questions and issues, such as binary gender identity, elitism, classism, religious worship (and the possibility of actually having a non-religious worldwide society), morally-acceptable lives… and I’m just getting started.
Indeed, this book is quite heavy when it comes to meditations and philosophical reflections, with Palmer never shying away from voicing points of view that might be risky and offend some, even if they are not her own. As you might imagine, plenty of questions don’t really have definitive answers but rather try and give you as much information and as many ideas as possible to push you towards making your own reflections. In the end, it all pushes us to ponder on the question as to whether or not humanity could truly be capable of collectively defining what a utopia would be and then bringing it about. It definitely has mounds of food for thought, especially perfect for starved brains.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately the second book in the series does justice to the first one and does a marvelous job at expanding on this world, the people populating as well as all the ideas and concepts that come with the study of a utopian society. It’s definitely unlike other science-fiction books out there right now, and if you liked the first one (Too Like the Lightning), then I heavily recommend you pursue your adventures.
Ada Palmer is an American writer and historian and recipient of the 2017 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer for her first novel, Too Like the Lightning. It was even nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. She pursued her foray into the world of books as she kept on adding to the Terra Ignota series, penning other well-received sequels such as Seven Surrenders, The Will to Battle and Perhaps the Stars.