I just finished the book today, and while I haven’t had a chance to really fully formulate my thoughts, here are my initial impressions.
The main themes from the Palatial game that tied in to the main story seemed to be guilt, revenge, betrayal and forgiveness, and maybe others that I’m not remembering right now. Abigail’s mother suffered from guilt for sending clone soldiers to their deaths shortly after giving them life and false memories. Abigail herself feels great remorse for giving orders to torture the ghost warrior; in fact, that’s her last decision in the game before being dragged out of it. The shatterlings feel guilt at their role in the destruction of the First Machine people, which they successfully suppress for millions of years.
The House of Suns would then represent the effects of deeply repressed memories bubbling to the surface. Just as traumatic memories from the past can drive an individual to madness, Campion’s inadvertent discovery of ancient memories drive the entire Gentian Line into madness, betrayal and self-destruction.
When I first heard the magician say that all of the Ghost Warriors were created from the same template, I thought they would have a parallel story to one of the shatterling lines (also cloned from one source). However, looking back the Ghost Warriors seem to be the equivalent to the First Machine people. Both were killed by Abigail’s wizard or shatterlings because they were a potentially lethal & alien threat to their existence.
Count Mordax becoming the Spirit in the Sky was a neat twist. It’s interesting that his merged evil spirit/AI character is the one to show forgiveness in the end. Abigail’s nanny told her during their final encounter “I hope you become a good girl again”. Maybe she does at the very end, but through most of the novel she hasn’t, especially through her clones such as Galingale, Betony and the torture girl whose name I’ve forgotten.
The idea of people travelling the Milky Way galaxy for millions of years at STL speeds was quite interesting, even though we didn’t get to actually witness their post-circuit gathering. The possibility of travelling for millions of years in a city-sized ship with 1-2 passengers aboard seemed a bit lonely. They seem to use stasis for passing the time rather than VR networks, which I assumed was due to their shared trauma of the Palatial game.
Alastair Reynolds used the human-fear-of-AI theme but it’s funny that it doesn’t really emerge for over a million years. Many sci-fi books & movies have that occurring in the 21st century.
I didn’t understand the Doctor Meninx character. What was his purpose and how did he tie into the themes of the two story lines?
Overall I really enjoyed this book. Thanks Isaac Arthur for recommending it :) The ending wasn’t what I expected and felt a little flat, but I’d still give it a solid 4 stars out of 5. On my rating scale 4 means I’d like to read it again in the future, while 5 means a masterpiece. And bonus points to Reynolds for referencing the King Crimson song “Cadence and Cascade”.