Book Review: The Collapsing Empire

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire

I originally bought The Collapsing Empire for my husband, who loves John Scalzi's books. But then I started hearing all the buzz about the book (including the Hugo nomination), and my husband vouched for it, so here we are.

The Collapsing Empire takes place in the far future, where humanity has formed a galactic empire known as the Interdependency--so-called because each planet is dependent on the others. Travel between the planets is possible because the Flow, an extradimensional space that serves as Scalzi's substitute for interdimensional travel. And bad news: the Flow is changing, possibly collapsing. The survival of the Interdependency will fall to a small cast of characters as they determine the exact situation and root out a greedy plot to take advantage of the situation.

This book is a fun little romp. Scalzi's style is always accessible and witty, and that's visible from page one when he describes the proper legal procedures for a mutiny. The book, while not a comedy by any means, has a lot of small moments of comedy, guaranteed to make you smile.

The cast of characters is strong too. Cardenia, the accidental heir to the Interdependency who assumes the title of "emperox" near the novel's beginning, is probably my favorite. She's surrounded by pomp and circumstance and conspiracy, in a position nobody ever expected her to inherit, and yet she makes the most of her situation despite that. She's determined to be a good emperox, and she gets a hint early on of what's coming. It's easy to tell that her calm competence will be vital to humanity's survival in the coming crisis.

A close second in the "favorite character" department is Kiva Lagos, the heir to one of the large mercantile houses that hold trade monopolies and thus control much of the Interdependency's economy and politics. Kiva goes to the planet End on a routine trade mission and ends up getting involved in the plot of one of the other great houses' plots to seize power, but that's not why I like her. She's got spunk and absolutely zero shame, the bad girl with at least a semblance of a good heart underneath. 

The other characters aren't quite as memorable as these two, but there's no bad character in the lot. And Scalzi knows enough not to introduce too many; even though the scale of the novel stretches across many planets, Scalzi keeps it from getting out of control through the POV characters he chooses.

The plot takes a little while to get going, but it never feels too slow thanks to Scalzi's witty narration. From the jacket, it's easy to tell that the collapsing Flow will be the series' major conflict, but this first book isn't actually focused as much on that as it is on the conspiracy to kill Cardenia and the political machinations on End. The revelation to the broader cast about the Flow doesn't come until the book's climax, so there's not much on that front which will surprise or shock you. Even the conspiracy at the book's heart isn't that difficult to piece together.

Still, as I said above, it's a fun little romp. I didn't find it particularly mind-blowing, but it's entertaining and I want to read the next one to find out what happens to Cardenia and Kiva. That's good enough for me.

Grade: 4.25/5

Memorable Quote:

The committee sat, senior-most closest to the emperox’s chair at the head of the table, with the exception of Archbishop Korbijn, who sat opposite of Cardenia. Cardenia noted the dress of each—the church bishops in fine red robes lined in purple, the guild representatives in their formal black and gold, the parliamentarians in somber blue business suits. Her own Very Serious Uniform was imperial green, dark with emerald piping.

We look like a box of crayons, Cardenia thought.
— The Collapsing Empire, pg. 69
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