Review: Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson (audiobook)

Having discussed with friends their horrific experiences with some of the Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert Dune sequels, and discussing with other friends their animosity over Anderson’s Star Wars books I decided that I should give Anderson’s long running Saga of the Seven Suns a try. While I have yet to read any of the Dune sequels myself, and have only hazy memories of Kyp Durron and the Jedi Academy books I was none the less a bit concerned about what was in store for me here.

What I found was an impressive space opera full of mystery, action, suspense, populated by interesting characters and set in a truly epic scale. Hidden Empire displays some quality writing far more exciting and interesting than anything I remember from the Star Wars books I vaguely remember. That isn’t to say that the story isn’t without its problems but what problems there are exist more as a result of format and ambition rather than a lack of skillful writing.

Let me start with the major problem and the one that might make this book a little less accessible to the greater reading population: the cast. The cast is fricking huge. As a result from the outset you spend so little time with the diverse characters in the beginning of the novel that any sort of connection between the various character’s plots doesn’t become readily obvious until about halfway through the book. As a corollary the the chapter to chapter switches between each point of view don’t really let you build any kind of quick emotional attachment to any of the characters at the outset of the novel and it is only towards the end of the book (I’d say about the final third or so) that you ever feel really attached to any of them.

On the other hand Anderson does a fantastic job of giving each of their characters their own voice (aided by George Guidall’s solid narration).  From the youthful anger of Tasia, to the optimism of Nera, to the arrogance of the Mage Imperium there is refreshing amount a originality and individuality amongst the massive cast.  My personal favorites included Raymond Aguerra, and Margaret Colickoss.  It’s hard to go into specifics without verging into spoiler territory but Aguerra’s story featured some of the best political aspects of the story while Colickoss’ sections revealed an impressive level of world building involved in the history of the Seven Suns universe.

Now, the worst for last, there was a major weak point in the plot that I feel obligated to mention.  The early chapters of the novel show humans using an alien technology to ignite a gas giant into a full fledged world in order to thaw out moons to use as habitable colonies.  Immediatley after the planet ingnites multiple characters notice several spheres fly out of the now burning gas giant.  Later in the novel, when aliens start showing up on other gas giants to destroy and murder humans mining the atmosphere there I find the confusion over why the aliens are attacking to be very close to unbelievable; especially for the human leadership.   You lit a gas giant on fire.  Aliens fly out of gas giant to wreck shit up some time after.  Is the logistical leap not obvious?

Regardless I still enjoyed the listen and would recommend it to others, either in audio or print, despite its flaws.  While Hidden Empire doesn’t do anything particularly new Anderson did manage to create an interesting and deep setting to play out action, adventure, mystery, and drama on a grand scale.  While it lacks the intimacy of a more focused narrative the cinematic flair and enormous scope of Anderson’s story manage to draw you in and keep you reading (or listening).

The series is complete at seven books and it looks like most, if not all, are available in both audio and print.  Books 1, 2 and 3 are available from Recorded Books/Random House Audio while 4 through 7 are available from Brilliance.  The change in audio publisher means that George Guidall only narrates books 1 through 3 and I can’t stress just how much his performance adds to the book but I can’t imagine many other narrators living up to the quality of work heard here.