Watch Out for Assassins: A Spoiler-Filled Review of John Scalzi’s The Consuming Fire

Everyone’s had time to read The Consuming Fire, the second book in John Scalzi’s expansive new space adventure series, The Interdependency. If not, it’s time to rock up to your nearest bookstore, Audible app, or library and fix that. You won’t want to venture into this post without arming yourselves with the plot of the book (unless you love spoilers and then, that’s fine). If you want a taste of what you’re in for, check out the recap of The Collapsing Empire and the spoiler-free review of The Consuming Fire over here.

If you’re ready, let’s talk politics, plots, machinations, and banging. Spoilers, ahoy!

When we left our heroes, Emperox Grayland II of the Interdependency, or Cardenia, had survived several assassination plots by Nadashe Nohamapetan. Unfortunately for Nadashe’s brother Amit, he didn’t, leaving us down one antagonist and with the third, Ghreni, trapped on the planet End at the farthest edge of Interdependency space. Marce Claremont, our awkward rural scientist from End, has just dropped data on Cardenia that says the Flow shoals that the empire uses for travel, colonization, and trade will soon vanish. That will leave the empire fractured and many populations cut off and doomed without the ability to require additional resources. Kiva Lagos, a member of House Lagos, who brought Marce and his data through the Flow to be delivered to Cardenia, also brought with her dirt on more Nohamapetan shenanigans on End. Nadashe, having acquired incomplete data about the Flow shoals, launched a whole plan for mutiny that would leave her family in power instead of Cardenia’s. Too bad about the incomplete bits, and also too bad that Kiva Lagos is irked and has the information to really ruin their day.

Sequels can be hard to pull off, because you have to tie up some loose ends, drop new mysteries for the reader to chew on (making a note here—HUGE SUCCESS), juggle old and new characters alike, and keep the tension high—it’s not the last part of the story! Luckily, The Consuming Fire does so beautifully with some excellent character introductions, universe expansion, and some great villainy. There’s lots to unpack, but we’re going to focus on five specific things.

Political Maneuvering 101

Cardenia, thrust into the position as emperox, is quickly tossed into what for us would amount to a global crisis. However, Cardenia is no fool, even if she wasn’t raised to take over a massive empire. The Interdependency was founded using visions—a really flimsy PR tactic that somehow worked—and so Cardenia tries to use them, too. She proclaims visions that support the data that Marce has provided about the collapse of the Flow shoals in order to shift public opinion. Sadly, the other parts of the government aren’t super thrilled. But given that they all seem intent on fighting over power, disregarding science, and being real jerks about it, Cardenia’s visions plan was at least a plan.

Murderers Gonna Murder

Nadashe went to prison for trying to assassinate the emperox and also killing her brother Amit in the process, but that’s not the end of the story. Her mother, Countess Nohamapetan, taught her how to scheme, but not quite how to pull convoluted schemes off and not get caught. So when Nadashe finds herself rescued from a prisoner transport and presumed dead by everyone, she’s largely off the board as her mother tries to plant doubt about her guilty within society. Countess Nohamapetan is prepared to marry Nadashe off and do quite a few terrible things to continue Nadashe’s plan, because after all, who cares that their entire society is on the brink of destruction? For those harboring any doubts that Countess Nohamapetan is the OG schemer in House Nohamapetan, who else gasped out loud when she admitted to killing Cardenia’s brother once it became clear he and Nadashe might not work out? But again, talk about being the victim of your own arrogance—Cardenia has made life for House Nohamapetan hell way more than her brother might have, deservedly so. See: Attempts, Assassination.

It’s brilliant to watch how Cardenia finally puts Countess Nohamapetan in her place. That is, charged, along with her minions, with treason. But we haven’t seen the last of the Nohamapetans. Nadashe makes a quick escape to avoid recapture. The Consuming Fire hasn’t forgotten the existence of Ghreni Nohamapetan, but he’s still on End with Marce’s father and sister. Well, we assume so, and it’s likely Nadashe will head to him.

Still, seems risky. Vrenna Claremont doesn’t seem like an awfully forgiving person when you mess with her family.

New Friends & New Data

Marce is making tons of new friends in The Consuming Fire. First, there’s Hatide Roynold, who Nadashe received Flow data from. Nadashe used Hatide’s data to hatch her mutiny/Interdependency takeover, not realizing that the data wasn’t complete. Hatide, unfortunately, didn’t have her work peer reviewed, because the only other person studying the data, Count Claremont—Marce’s father—was banned by Cardenia’s father from talking about his research. Hatide accosts Marce after a lecture and shows him that his data is incomplete without hers—hers just shows something different and when you combine them the full picture emerges. Instead of the Flow collapse, it’s going to be a collapse paired with the opening and closing of temporary Flow shoals in different places.

This leads Marce and Hatide to discover that there’s actually an older Flow shoal open again. It was lost years before; Marce is adamant that they go through the shoal to see what happened on the other end so they can make better preparations for the empire.

Although the trip reveals that people survived in space for centuries, it’s undermined by the same forces trying to take over the Interdependency. Countess Nohamapetan sends assassins (she loves herself a solid assassination) after Marce and his team, and Marce and a few others only survive because they accidentally find a sentient spaceship that rescues them, and Marce makes his second friend.

Yes, that’s right: a sentient spaceship.

Poor Hatide, who just wanted to do science, is murdered along with the crew of Marce’s original ship. I bet Marce is going to put her name first on whatever papers he publishes, guaranteed. The new ship, helmed by an AI called Chenevert, comes to their rescue but also reveals that hey, the Interdependency wasn’t the only government out there. Also, the Interdependency didn’t accidentally lose Earth—they left with extreme prejudice.

The Secret History

After helping the survivors at the end of the newly opened Flow shoal before it closes, Marce brings Chenevert back to the Interdependency and introduces him to Cardenia. This is the greatest because a) Chenevert is actually an awesome character who, if he gets developed further, has the chance to become an excellent ally and b) he gives Cardenia some info that helps her start using the power at her disposal. Cardenia’s Memory Room—housing the memories and experiences of all the emperoxes before her—also houses data collected and stored by the AI that runs the room. It’s scooped up data the entire time it’s been active, and has a record of the time before the Interdependency.

Cardenia is probably the best person to have access to the power that Chenevert inadvertently brings her by alerting her to the secrets of the Memory Room. Chenevert’s existence, his escape from his own empire through a shifting Flow shoal, and Cardenia’s discovery of even more history of the Interdependency raise many questions about the survival of her empire.

Love is in the Air

Yeah, this is a book containing Kiva Lagos, so I hope no one thought we were leaving this discussion without talking about banging. There’s some great banging, because Cardenia and Marce finally get their heads out of their butts. Cardenia: falling in love! Marce: resigned to being a fling because he’s not important enough to marry and oblivious to how deep Cardenia is getting. I endorse some angst, emotionally resonant resolution, and a happy ending for these two nerds. *stares directly at John Scalzi, who is definitely reading this*

The most interesting, though, is Kiva! Countess Nohamapetan has a lawyer, Senia Fundapellonan. And because Kiva is Kiva, of course she’s gonna bang the lawyer. I don’t even know why that’s a spoiler. “Kiva Lagos meets someone new and doesn’t try to bang them” doesn’t even compute. But who knew that Countess Nohamapetan would get so mad at Kiva for working to root out all the corruption in House Nohamapetan’s finances that she would engage in assass—no. No, of course she would go directly to assassination. Unfortunately for her, her assassin doesn’t hit Kiva. Instead, they hit Fundapellonan, and Kiva has to go punch some people for it. And wouldn’t you know—Fundapellonan starts to grow on her. We’ll see if Kiva Lagos is ready to settle down or not in the next book. That’d be the biggest twist of the whole series.

The End

I’ve only scratched the surface of the adventures in The Consuming Fire. There’s a lot going on here and I could talk about it all, but why not save some fun discussions for the comments or Twitter? Things I didn’t cover: the Wu family is full of squabbling whiners; yeah, those people lost when the Flow shoal closed did survive and the reason will surprise you; is part of this book grappling with how governments respond to massive change similar to, oh, you know, scary reports about our own global temperature? Also, is it okay to use certain power, even when it’s for a good reason?

These questions and more await you in The Consuming Fire. I hope you love it. I sure did.

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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