Ada Palmer Ends an Era
For those who aren’t familiar with the Terra Ignota series and are here for the first time, I would highly recommend you begin your adventures with the first book in the series, Too Like the Lightning. Ada Palmer’s books aren’t the kind you can read out of order and hope to follow the story or understand what’s happening. It’s one very long journey, and you would do well to start at the beginning. With this foreword out of the way, let us move on to the show.
In her previous books, Ada Palmer depicted a near-perfect utopia on the surface, one nevertheless only maintained in careful balance through calculated assassinations to prevent power from shifting too much to any side. The people had known peace and tranquillity for generations and very few ever longed or needed anything. Everyone’s needs were met, and all had their place in society. Long story short, a paradise most people thought would last for eternity.
Unfortunately, it seems nothing ideal can last forever, and in the third book of the series, The Will to Battle, an era of peace and prosperity which saw human civilization standing on its pinnacle comes to an end. Peace and order are now nothing but memories, the Hives having to deal with widespread insurgencies and corruption.
In the middle of it all is our genius killer Mycroft Canner, and we get to see through his eyes the Fall of Man from the highest point he has ever reached. Social norms are dead, and everyone from the from the highest to the lowest rungs of society are preparing for a giant inevitable war promising to reshape the world in ways unimaginable.
A Chaos of Imperfections in The Will to Battle
As one might expect, The Will to Battle sees a dramatic shift in setting and tone from the previous ones due to the direction undertaken by the plot. Whereas before we were dealing with structure and order, now things have fallen into dilapidation and chaos all around, basically upturning the paradise onto its head. This tremendous step in the setting’s evolution inspires a reborn interest in the world, as if we’re seeing it all again for the first time and have to rediscover how everything works.
Personally, I believe this change of pace was necessary for the series to keep on thriving because, let’s face it, there is a limit to how much interest one can generate in a utopian setting without eventually having some sort of major conflict. After all, there is a very good reason as to why we don’t see movies or read books simply detailing perfect lives devoid of problems: they are boring to the extreme.
The writing itself also reflects this change of state quite well, and it feels as if Palmer is capable of depicting this chaos in a logical enough fashion for the reader to understand it. Most notably, she uses some interesting narrative techniques to get her point across, such as breaking the fourth wall, dual columns which represent multiple conversations, and various types of parentheses to symbolize the use of foreign languages.
While for some writers this might prove to be a bit too great of an undertaking, Palmer manages it all perfectly and even keeps it crystal clear while moving the plot along faster than a bullet.
A Shift in Themes
With the utopian society on its last legs, it only makes sense for the themes explored in the story to be shifted dramatically. Gone now are all the notions of a genderless society and perfect life, replaced instead with an exploration of war, its purpose and connection to religion.
Through Mycroft’s learned eyes we witness what it takes for peaceful societies to take up arms against each other, the practical and intangible goals they are trying to achieve, as well as the role played by religion in the whole ordeal.
Ada Palmer isn’t trying to push any agenda whatsoever, but rather explore the phenomenon through her hypothetical universe. Instead of taking strong stances on various questions she instead urges us to think for ourselves and try to come up with conclusions that will satisfy our world views.
Whether we agree or disagree with the concepts that war is necessary for progress and governments have a solemn duty to protect their citizens, we cannot deny there are interesting arguments on both sides which deserve to be heard. I can safely say there is plenty of food for thought in this novel and it would be a shame to let it go to waste.
The Final Verdict
With all things taken into consideration, The Will to Battle is indeed a worthy successor to the previous books in the series. Ada Palmer finds a new and captivating direction in which to develop the story, and does so with the level of expertise her fans have come to expect from her. If you’ve already gone through the previous two books, then you have every reason in the world to add this one to your collection as well.
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.