Seedbearing Prince II
By Davaun Sanders
So let me start this with the grand tradition of disclaimers. Mr. Sanders is a friend of mine from work and he is aware that I am reviewing his works, in fact he might be reading this right now (Hey, man hope it's good feedback). We no longer work in the same department but none the less. That said everything in this review is my honest opinion and nothing but.
Now for those of you who don't remember or didn't read the review of the first book (you should read the first book and my review!) the Seedbearing Prince takes place in the World Belt, a collection of worlds linked by an asteroid field that is dense enough to travel through spiderman style. Our main character Dayn Ro'Halan is a farm boy who is working and planning to become one of the people who spend their lives traveling through the field of rocks and strange creatures adapted to this existence with nothing but a special suit, some grappling line and breathing gear. This is spiked when when he thwarts an attack on his world by a group of black armored monsters in the form of men known as Voidwalkers. Attack to mild a word though, they are literally trying to kill an entire world when Dayn trips over them, stops the attack and recovers a Seed, an artifact of immense power that bonds to Dayn. The Ring, a floating super fortress and extra-national organization of scientist and warriors found about Dayn and talked him on going on a tour of the Belt (the collection of worlds linked by asteroids) to drum up unity and raise awareness that the Voidwalkers are real. A Defender (a ring special forces soldier basically) named Nassir goes with him as well as a Preceptor (scientist) named Lurec go with him for advice and protection. This trip didn't go as planned. While Dayn was able to do a fair piece of good out there, he also got captured by the Voidwalkers in a massive attack on a city world named Montollos. In fact he got slammed into the belly of dread creature named a Fleshweep, which can hold it's captives for decades and there is almost no escape.
I was honestly less then happy that the first book ended in a cliffhanger. It didn't help that when I got Seedbearing Prince II it was about 200 pages which had me asking if this could have been combined with the first book. I haven't talked to Mr. Sanders about that, so that might be a publishing issue (this happens for example David Eddings planned the Belgariad as a trilogy only to be told to make it five books). On the flip side, the tone of the story shifts here fairly dramatically. In a single book that might have caused some serious whiplash, we go from a young man discovering the wider universe about him in all it's dangers and glories to... Well.. Fair warning here folks, Dayn takes it on the chin repeatedly here. So I'm going to go ahead and let this go, so there will be deduction for splitting the story here. Because of the change of the story we're being told here. The characters and setting remain consistent here I want to note, the change comes in a shift of tone and emphases. The shift is smooth enough that I'm willing to allow it and the story remains interesting and takes us to new places and shows us a lot of new exciting things.
Dayn is no longer on a journey to learn about what's going around him. He's learning how to survival in an hostile environment full of people who want to kill him or worse. He has to learn fast about the nature of his enemies and the extent of the cruelty they are capable and he spends a good part of the book in a captivity of sorts. Let's throw on top of that the fact that he is developing strange abilities and perceptions due to his exposure and bonding to the seed artifact. He has to learn what these abilities are and what his limits are while being taunted and tormented by monsters. Because the Voidwalkers have a plan for Dayn. If they can't kill or destroy him, they'll twist and use him. Dayn doesn't take this laying down though, he's going to escape even if it kills every Voidwalker in the base with him or utterly wrecks him in the process and it just might. We learn a bit about the Voidwalkers, including how the Fleshweeps are made (that's right made), in process that suggest to me that the Voidwalkers have never heard of an ethics committee (my bros and ladies in the bio or medical sciences know exactly what I'm talking about here). Additionally we get to see the Voidwalkers interact with each other and with people who aren't Voidwalkers and... Look, I'm calling them monsters for a reason. They create monsters that slowly break down prisoners over years in their bellies for war mounts. That's completely unnecessary! There's no real purpose to that beyond sadism as far as I can figure. Their favored attack is a mental assault that the people of the world belt refer to as the Thrall. It's an attack on your mind that can shred your very sanity. While they've created mental disciplines to ward off the worse effects of the Thrall, it can stop even Defenders. Add in the fact that the Voidwalkers refer to the people of the world belt as degenerates. With their more advanced capabilities and their extreme tendencies towards cruelty it's very much the pot and kettle. It does kind of remind me of Munteerers Moon, a novel by David Weber where the bad guys also refereed to regular people as degenerates despite behaving in an utter barbarous manner. To be honest though comparing the Voidwalkers to the barbarians of history is an insult to such people as the Mongols and the Huns. While Mongols and Huns acted in terrible ways, there were at least damn good reasons for their behavior. While from the Voidwalkers all I'm seeing is savage, terrible sadism and spite! They have their own world, which has more space and resources then the people of the world belt! They have more advanced capabilities and the their self chosen enemies can't hope to threaten them meaningfully. So I am at an utter lost to explain their actions. I really hope the next book sheds on some light on why the Voidwalkers insist on acting like monsters without even the merest drop of decency or humanity.
Meanwhile Lurec and Nassir find themselves with more then a little work to do on their own. They have the seed, even if they lost Dayn and they need to make sure it doesn't fall into the hands of the enemy. They also have to evade the government of the world they're on. Montollos is a very wealthy, powerful world that chafes at the influence and restraints of the ring and would be more then happy to “barrow” the seed for themselves. Once they escape Montollos they have to decide whether or not to try to rescue Dayn or just make a break for it and take the Seed to safety. Like Dayn, they'll find themselves doing things they would never have imagined doing as they are pushed harder and harder. Additionally we get to see more of the flora and fauna of the torrent (the name of the debris field) which I find very interesting, it's an entire ecosystem that is incredibly dangerous but endlessly fascinating. Course back on the ring, we find trouble brewing. We meet Nassir's wife, a lady who came up with the idea of trying to tame Rage Hawks (giant hawks that hunt monsters in the torrent for food!) as war mounts so she could ride into battle on a bird that can tear apart sheets of metal. She's unhappy that her husband has gone missing and intends to gather up a squad of manics on giant crazy hawks that attack metal ships and go look for him. Frankly this explains a lot of Nassir's attitude last book to me. If I had to leave a lady that awesome behind to guard a pair of naive manics? I'd be grumpy to. Hell, I might even be surly. She's also getting sucked into some intrigue as factions within the ring are setting up for a power play, as even within a fortress that is suppose to devoted to unity has people willing to break everything apart so they can get a bigger piece.
We also get a stunning reveal into the origin and nature of the setting, some of which I thought I saw coming but a lot of which I'll admit caught me off guard. I'm not going to spoil it or discuss those reveals in this review due to my long standing anti-spoilers policy. That said I did like how the reveal was handled and was made into an experience. The information is revealed not by lecture but by showing us by the method of giving one of the characters (Who? Not telling!) a series of flashbacks so s/he experiences the events first hand. We learn that the Voidwalkers have been a blight to the people of the worlds for a very, very long time and again many of their actions seem completely nonsensical to me. Driven only by sadism. We get to see the origins of the worlds themselves and the origins of the Ring, the Defenders, the Preceptors, all of it. It's a wild ride that let's us take a look at the past of the setting without bogging us down in a lecture or sticking it in the back of the book in an appendix. Furthermore the reveal of this history is serves a purpose in the story, to help undo the mental and emotional damage that a character as suffered and to enlighten him as to why he must fight. It's always important to know why you're fighting and to have a decent idea what victory looks like after all.
The book is short and in some ways is a continuation of the first book. That said the tonal shift and the change in goals and plans of the character help the book to translate into it's own separate story from the first book which was a worry of mine when I first opened it up. The pace is good, the story is tight and no page is wasted (which is a good thing because it doesn't have any pages to waste). Mr. Sanders delivers a twist on the setting that I didn't see coming but works in well with what was reveled in the first book. That said, I am left with a hell of a lot of questions mostly as to why the Voidwalkers do what they do. As it stands, they seem almost nonsensical as a culture, a people or a political entity being devoted to just pure sadism and tormenting the people of the world belt for... Reasons. Of course this is balanced out that we only really see them through Dayn and his companions eyes and they only see the Voidwalkers when they show up to fight or torment them. Still I'm hoping for more revelations in the next book and to find out more about the setting. This book has kept me interested and pushing for more. So because of that I am giving The Seedbearing Prince part II a A-.
Join me next time for more Acts of Caine.