Hayden Griffin is out for revenge. When he was a boy, the nation of Slipstream attacked his little home world of Aerie. Hayden’s parents had just managed to build a sun for Aerie so their world could be independent of Slipstream, but the more powerful nation attacked before Aerie could escape. Both of Hayden’s parents were killed. Years later, Hayden knows it was Admiral Chaison Fanning, the Admiral of Slipstream’s space fleet, who ordered the massacre, so Hayden plans to insinuate himself into the admiral’s household so he can get close enough to kill him. What he doesn’t know is how ruthless Venera Fanning, the Admiral’s wife, can be. When Venera discovers another nation’s plot against Slipstream, Hayden gets caught in the middle.
Sun of Suns, a “hard” SF novel, is the first book in Karl Schroeder’s VIRGA series. By far the best thing about Sun of Suns is the world-building. Virga is a marvelous creation — a huge balloon in space where humans have created their own suns and planets that float around inside. Anyone who has the knowledge and ability to create a sun can start his own civilization, but he’ll need to have a lot of resources and know some physics because there is no natural gravitational force in Virga — it has to be created by spinning the cities with centrifuges. Gravity is inconsistent, then, and on some worlds it may be denied to the lower classes. Civilizations can also be carved into lakes of water or attached to the inside wall of the balloon.
People and spaceships fly through the air of Virga, trying to avoid the rafts of junk that accumulate, and the cold dark areas called “Winter” where icebergs float and no sun shines for hundreds of miles. The people of Virga are unaware of anything outside of their balloon, though we get hints from another character about what is beyond — a universe of artificial engines that rule over humans who don’t remember their own science and technology. Candesce, Virga’s Sun (the sun of suns) disrupts artificial nature, so if the engines ever plan to rule Virga, they’ll have to take out its sun.
The characterization in Sun of Suns suffers a bit compared to the world-building. The female characters are especially shallow, but I’m sure that wasn’t Schroeder’s intention. I think he meant for them to be strong, but instead they come across as unlikely and unlikeable. He does better with Hayden and Chaison, though both men make some really stupid decisions. The plot is mostly exciting, but sometimes obscured by confusing action sequences or implausible occurrences, though I found myself willing to suspend disbelief because I liked Virga so much.
I listened to MacMillan Audio’s version of Sun of Suns, which I got free at Audible during one of their promotions. Joyce Irvine reads it competently, but I was puzzled at MacMillan Audio’s choice of an older-sounding female to narrate a book whose main protagonist is a young man. This bothered me some, but not enough to keep me from reading the next book, if I do, in audio format. Other readers may feel differently and should probably listen to the sample of Sun of Suns at Amazon or Audible before choosing the audio version.
I liked Sun of Suns well enough that I will try the second book, Queen of Candesce, if I find it on sale at Audible. I would have been more eager to read book two if featured Hayden as the main character, but judging from the description, it features Venera Fanning (which may be why a female narrator was chosen) and, though I look forward to spending more time in Virga, I don’t really want to hang out with her.