The third book of Kay Kenyon’s The Rose and the Entire series is perhaps the best yet. All the political and emotional threads woven into the first two novels, Bright of the Sky and A World Too Near, are drawn taught and lead (almost) to their ultimate conclusion. City Without End sees Titus Quinn seeking to thwart the machinations of Helice Maki whose plan, along with other “savvies” from the Minerva Corp. is to hasten the death of the Rose (our world) while bringing over a bunch of super-smart people to the Entire to give humanity a fresh start. Oddly enough the eugenic angle of the plot feels only like a minor footnote next to desire and ability to commit genocide and Kenyon’s focus is more on the goings on in the Entire than it is on in examining the social structure of the Rose and how intellegence became a viable means of determining social standing. Regardless the social structures of both the Entire and the Rose make for a fascinating backdrop for what amounts to a damned exciting story.
I don’t know if it was just me but the narrative of City Without End felt far more focused and driven than either of the first two novels. Kenyon spent considerable time in the earlier two novels laying significant ground work regarding the emotional and psychological characteristics of all the characters. At the same time she created a framework regarding how both worlds interact with one another while at the same time giving us a more detailed view of the social and political organization of the Entire (much less detail about the Rose). All of which made for interesting and frequently exciting reading but nothing like the drama and action of City Without End.
The major plot elements intoduced in A World Too Near (through Helice Maki) are what really drive this novel forward, even if it isn’t always Helice herself that is doing the actual driving. How the various characters throughout both worlds deal with the scheming of Helice and the Minverva corporation provides the foundation for the majority of the novel’s action sequences as well as the emotional drama. I felt Kenyon’s treatment of Helice in A World Too Near was a little more well-rounded, she feels a bit more dynamic especially when we see her interacting with executives from Minvera. Here however I felt that Helice fell too easily into the cookie cutter villain era, sure she never arched her fingers, laughed maniaclly, or twirled her mustache (if you know, she had one) but those were the images I saw during her scenes early in the novel. She makes a bit of turn around towards the end becoming a little more interesting but in truth her sudden dynamicism had me feeling a bit disappointed that we didn’t get as deep a glimpse into her psyche in this novel as we did in the previous one.
In previous books some of the shifts in point-of-view bothered me but here I didn’t find that a problem at all. All of thec characters provided for interesting reading, even the new characters provided for some compelling reading. Tai, for example, provides for an interesting example of how the presence of the Rose influences the residents of the Entire. As a mort, Tai is part of a sort-of cult, that tries to live their lives like people of the Rose, wearing bright clothes in tribute to life, living beneath the city to keep out of the Bright, and commiting suicide when they think their lives have gone on long enough. There is also Geng Do, a fairly lucent navitar (most navitars are reminiscent of the hybrids from Battlestar Galactic) who can see and manipulate the threads of the future. We don’t get a lot from his perspective and his motivations remain unclear but his introduction to the plot adds depth to rather than detracts anything from the narrative threads that Kenyon has been deftly weaving.
Of course the primary emotional drama comes from the relationship between Titus and his estranged daughter Sidney. Titus is very much a creature of the Rose but somehow still loves the Entire and it the inherent conflict between those two facts that makes him such and interesting character to follow. Sidney, on the other hand, is entirely for the Entire (heh) with no regard whatsoever for the Rose. At the same time, on a deeper level, she loves her father despite his betrayal in “abandoning” her to the Inix sway and belief that he only betray her again. Those are difficult concepts to build a relationship on and pain Titus feels over that fact, and Sydney’s confusion over her feelings for her father, are both something that Kenyon manages to convey with skill. The nature of the their relationship is especially hearthbreaking given the universe spanning nature of the the conflict at the end of the novel. It’s subtle, and laudably so, their conflict and relationship is a microcosm of the novel’s entire conflict.
The novel’s climatic finale far eclipses anything in the previous novel in terms of revelations and excitement. It features not just an epic fight scene (or two) but some sweet corporate espionage and thriller level excite spanning not one but two universes. While we don’t get full details on the true nature of the tarig lords Kenyon does finally reveal quite a bit about and includes some interesting appearances of familiar faces over the course of the finale. Kenyon does a masterful job over the course of the whole novel in tugging you along an emotional roller coaster with characters who have developed slowly but steadily over the course of three books. While both Bright of the Sky and A World Too Near function admirably as individual pieces of fiction the same is not true for City Without End. While it does include a distinct and complete plot it was one woven with questions and plot threads that have been carried over since the series’ beginning and while coalesces nicely into an exciting tapestry of action, excitement, and adventure it is predicated almost entirely on familiarity with the first two books. I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing, it is the nature of series fiction, I’m merely stating a fact. Regardless, City Without End is my favorite science-fiction read so far this year. It delves deep into a truly unique world without sacrificing intimate connections to characters. While Kenyon mentions some elements of science she maintains a certain auro of mystique about technology and science that, when combined with the epic feel of the novel’s plot, make City Without End almost as much a work of fantasy as science fiction. If you haven’t been reading this series: shame on you! It is some truly exceptional work and, with one more book set to go, there is no better time to get started than now. Highly recommended.
Note: I found the final scene a bit confusing. If anyone has thoughts on what happened please feel free to get in touch!