Queen of Candesce
Karl Schroeder
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Buy *Queen of Candesce: Book Two of Virga* by Karl Schroeder

Queen of Candesce: Book Two of Virga
Karl Schroeder
336 pages
December 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The ancient city of Spyre has been decaying for some time. The only ones who seem to care are the preservationists who are trying to patch the literal holes slowly opening into the ground. The majority of the residents of Spyre belong to one or another of the many city-states - or rather building-states, each a tiny nation usually consisting of one or a few buildings and the surrounding ground. Each nation defends itself fiercely against their neighbors; each is also a merchant selling but one luxury product to the states beyond Spyre. They try to keep their own product a secret from their neighbors as long as possible, making Spyre a nest of intrigue and politics. The following passage describes a view from the Lesser Spyre, a smaller piece of rotating land underneath the Greater Spyre:

The interior of Spyre was spoked by thousands of these cables; some rose at low angles to reattach themselves to the skin of the world just a few miles away. Some shot straight up to touch down on the opposite side of the cylinder. All were under tremendous tension and every now and then one snapped; then the world rang like a bell for an hour or two, and shifted, and more pieces fell off of it.

Venera Fanning has lived her childhood in a very similar political environment. One of the daughters of the most powerful ruler in Virga, she spent her formative years plotting and building her own spy network. She escaped that life by marrying young Chaison Fanning. After her arrival to Spyre, she wastes no time exploring and exploiting her surroundings. Separated from her husband and the rest of the group, she plans her escape and return home even though it is said to be impossible to escape Spyre.

She falls into Spyre unconscious and badly sunburned. After she has recovered enough, she tries to leave but instead is captured by Liris and almost forced to become one of Liris's citizens. Venera quickly starts to view this as an opportunity to learn more about her new "home" and perhaps to gather some allies.

The intelligent, ruthless Venera does not trust anyone. She keeps people at an arm's-length at best, always looking out for how she can best take advantage of them. Now, alone, she must use all of her cunning to survive, doing her best to adapt to every situation that arises from the plots many twists and turns. She is also very proactive, which is always good in a main character, and she learns and grows a great deal during the story.

The other major character, Garth Diamandis, finds the unconscious Venera and nurses her back to health. The old dandy and hermit lives on anything he can find and tries his best to stay out of trouble. Venera drafts him into service as her guide and ends up changing his life. Garth acts as the point-of-view character in several scenes.

All of the other numerous characters in Queen of Candesce pursue their own agendas. The nobles in their small nations, often very much set in their ways, resent anything upsetting the status quo and tend to be paranoid about safeguarding their own people.

Queen of Candesce is structurally quite different from the previous book. While Sun of Suns had multiple point-of-view characters who shared the spotlight almost equally, here, there is only one clear main character: Venera Fanning. A few other point-of-view characters are only seen briefly.

The second installment in Karl Schroeder's steampunk "Virga" cycle continues the story from the previous book as Venera ends up in another of Virga's almost weightless cities. While there are some reminders about what has happened before, I would suggest reading Sun of Suns before tackling this one. While the series as a whole bursts with action, this entry focuses more on fast-paced plotting, character growth, and interaction.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Mervi Hamalainen, 2009

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