A Non-Spoiler Look at John Scalzi’s The Consuming Fire

Hello, friends! It’s time! Our return to The Interdependency for a fun adventure is here! But before we all download our ebooks, fire up Audible, or crack open our shiny new hardcover, let’s have a quick recap of what went down in the first book of the series, The Collapsing Empire.

In a galaxy far, far away, humans live within the Interdependency, a massive empire that has been churning along for a millennium, anchored by trade partnerships between planetary systems light years away from one another. The societies of the Interdependency are connected by the Flow, a naturally occurring “river” of space-time that allows ships to pass in and out by using entrance “shoals” that remain stationary. It allows humans to build their colonies throughout different parts of the galaxy and makes travel between them faster. Not always fast—some trips can take weeks or months—but notably quicker than without the Flow, which would take so long you would be super dead at the end of the trip. The Flow allows a huge interdependent economy to flourish—that’s the Interdependency.

But it’s all coming to an end, because the Flow shoals are vanishing.

In The Collapsing Empire, we meet Cardenia, the newly minted emperox of the Interdependency; Marce, a rural scientist whose father researched the end of the Flow, and Kiva, a member of House Lagos who accidentally gets caught up in the plans to take over power in the empire, put into place by the siblings of House Nohamapetan: Ghreni, Amit, and Nadashe.

Cardenia begins her journey as Emperox Grayland II, learning the truth of the Interdependency—it was all a huge con to establish and retain power for the Wu family, because hey, why not? Marce is forced out of his home on a planet called End—because it’s the farthest away from the center of government—to carry the data on the vanishing Flow streams to Interdependency leadership. Kiva is caught up in the Nohamapetan plot to take over both the title of Emperox and also control of the planet Marce lives on, as End is the only planet in the whole Interdependency that can sustain human life. All three of our heroes spend plenty of time politicking, running from assassins sent by the Nohamapetans, specifically Nadashe, barely surviving said assassins, and in Kiva’s case, banging anyone who’s willing very, very thoroughly (except a Nohamapetan; Kiva’s been down that road already, thanks).

The data Marce brings to Cardenia, and the intel Kiva brings back to her own family on the antics of House Nohamapetan and their attempts to usurp Cardenia changes everything. But even surviving assassins and political plots doesn’t change the truth: the Flow shoals are vanishing, and Cardenia, with help from Marce, must figure out a way to save her people.

The Collapsing Empire left us on a bit of a cliffhanger, with the future of the Interdependency uncertain, the Flow shoals slowly disappearing, and the only planet available to sustain a massive human population assumed to be blockaded and protected by the remaining Nohamapetan sibling, Ghreni.

But good news, readers! The Consuming Fire is even better than The Collapsing Empire.

(“Renay,” you say, resigned, “you say that about every single follow-up book Scalzi writes.”

“True,” I say, “But this time I really think my subjective opinion is onto something! You should definitely go get a copy, read it yourself, and then come tell me your subjective opinion. For science.”)

The first book made everything seem, if not simple, than at least a fairly straight-forward space adventure. The second book immediately complicates everything for our characters while also deepening the universe.

Cardenia, faced with making a huge political and spiritual entity react to the coming crisis that will render their society disconnected and broken, has to make tough choices on how to shift public opinion on the data Marce provided to her and her scientists. Marce, trudging through talk after talk to officials who doubt his data and resist the implications, learns about something he’s missing from an unexpected ally that will changes we know about the Interdependency. Kiva is charged with managing House Nohamapetan and getting it back on the straight and narrow. That will be hard to do if Countess House Nohamapetan and Cardenia’s enemies within the government have anything to say about it (and they do: many, many opinions).

The strength of the first book was its characters, and that’s true this time, too. There are several excellent additions, so I hope you like artificial intelligence. And I also hope you like banging, because there’s a burgeoning romance, and plus, Kiva is still Kiva. She’s great.

Although the character work continues to be my favorite part of this series, the world building here goes up a notch, because we’re also traveling to more parts of the galaxy, and learning more about the past of the Interdependency … and beyond. But that’s all I’ll say about that except: wow, I didn’t see that coming at all!

If you loved The Collapsing Empire, then you’ll also want to be prepared to read The Consuming Fire once and then again to enjoy all the ways Scalzi fits the pieces together. If you need a story where the people in government care about the people under their charge and also about deep corruption, this book will be tons of fun and will definitely cheer you up. Do something nice for yourself and pick up this series. Scalzi, as always, gives great romp.

The Consuming Fire is available from Tor Books.
Read the prologue and first two chapters here.

Renay Williams stumbled into online fandom, fanfiction, and media criticism via Sailor Moon in 1994. Since then, she’s become an editor at Lady Business and a co-host of Fangirl Happy Hour. She can be found having emotions over the lives of fictional characters on Twitter @renay.

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