Originally posted 05/23/11 in my meta/review blog In this book, Gustav Adolph’s cousin quietly investigates the circumstances around Chancellor Oxenstierna’s power grab and the ensuing succession crisis. Gretchen, and the Committees of Correspondence defend Dresden, and various other groups, rise in opposition to Oxenstierna’s attempt to take over the government. (And are able to play it quite convincingly that they’re on the side of the angels–because they are–since Oxenstierna is deliberately trying to change the entire system that had already been decided upon by everyone, while everyone else is continuing to play by the rules already decided on and more or less fighting back to maintain those rules.)
Oxenstierna’s power grab begins to crumble under the forces of Gretchen’s CoC organization and direct opposition from the rest of the USE. Another big blow is that Ulrik and Kristina (actually, it was more Ulrik since Kristina while very intelligent, is only eight) are supporting the opposition. They flee to Magdeburg and engage in a war of publicity with Oxenstierna, who can’t do very much about it. (I again, I feel the need to point out that while Kristina and Ulrik are in fact betrothed this is a political arrangement and historically noble marriages on occasion had really, disparate ages between husband and wife. Kristina and Ulrik’s situation is unusual in that they are in each other’s company a great deal. In most cases, they most likely would have finally met on the day of the actual wedding, when Kristina came of age.)
While all of this is going on, Gustav Adolph, the Emperor of the USE is not getting the medical attention he needs, and a head injury has left him with aphasia, leaving him unable to communicate coherently. (One of the big issues is that Oxenstierna wouldn’t let Dr. Nichol’s treat Gustav Adolph, choosing to interpret “not much can be done” as “nothing at all can be done” and making him leave. From there he decided to do a power grab because he didn’t like the changes that the “downtimers” were bringing.) Fortunately, Gustav does begin to recover, though he now suffers from convulsions because of the head injury.
In addition to all of this, there is a hint that there is about to be a conflict of some kind coming from the direction of the Ottoman Empire.
While I did like this book, I have the same problem with it that I did with the previous one: there is a jump in the chronology of the series and certain events that we know happened haven’t actually been written about yet. I find this to be kind of frustrating in general. (For instance, as much as I love Brust’s Vlad Taltos books, the chronology drives me insane because it’s not very linear. The Ring of Fire series is about a hundred times worse because it’s not a single-author series, it’s a massive collaboration between many authors and Eric Flint. It is a very big complicated mess.) I feel that in some ways, this book is split up between too many different points of view for a book of this length, and a lot of the situations go by in a blur. This will be a difficult book to get into if you aren’t already familiar with the series.