The novel “Ashes of Candesce” by Karl Schroeder was published for the first time in 2012. It’s the fifth novel of the Virga series and follows “The Sunless Countries“.
Leal Hieronyma Maspeth, along with other people who came from Virga, ended up on Aethyr, a sphere attached to Virga, and going back is vital to save not only themselves. On Aethyr they meet Keir Chen, a post-human who has no plans of destruction and decides to join humans in defending their artificial hollow planet.
To deal with the threat, Leal, Keir, Antaea Argyre and Hayden Griffin can only turn to Venera and Chaison Fanning but even on Virga there are different factions and the outer enemies have found allies in some of them. The situation becomes more and more complex and in the final clash it becomes difficult to figure out who are the allies and who are the enemies.
“Ashes of Candesce” resumes the story where it ended in “The Sunless Countries”, with which essentially forms a novel split into two books. Venera and Chaison Fanning, the protagonists of the first three novels of the Virga series, return as well so you need to read all the previous novels to understand the events in the last one.
In “Ashes of Candesce” there’s he growing feeling that Karl Schroeder decided to give the series a conclusion that puts together all the important elements included in the various novels and especially their protagonists. This choice determines the creation of a grand finale but also creates some problems with the last novel.
Throughout the various novels of the Virga series, Karl Schroeder provided an amount of information on the nature of that hollow artificial planet and also some about the post-humans living out of it. Concerning the threat coming from a part of those post-humans called Artificial Nature, the author develops the events that lead to the final clash but does it slowly.
The first half of “Ashes of Candesce” is the story of the various encounters among the protagonists of the earlier novels along with the introduction of some new important characters, especially the post-human Keir Chen. The consequence is that that part is basically made up of journeys and conversations among the characters who meet at a rather slow pace.
This also allows the author to give Keir Chen depth and the readers to get an idea of how at least some post-humans live. He’s a protagonist of “Ashes of Candesce” and his point of view is important in the novel, a choice that helps to understand the differences between him and normal humans in addition to his motivations and his backstory.
These developments make the first part interesting at least in part but it takes a bit of patience while waiting for the second half, when the pace really accelerates and the great final clash between the various factions begins. Its outcome will determine not only Virga’s destiny but will also have implications for the future developments of the post-human civilization.
In this finale the protagonists have the opportunity to shine and it’s here that you really need to know the old ones from the previous novels to understand the sense of their decisions. More than ever, Karl Schroeder mixes the elements with a steampunk flavor about Virga’s inhabitants and their limited technology with the much more advanced post-human ones.
The end result is a novel that is a bit uneven and relies on “technobabble” in some key points regarding Artificial Nature’s will to destroy Virga. That’s also a problem for at least some of the philosophical discussions included in the novel about humanity and its possible future.
Despite these flaws, in my opinion Karl Schroeder still makes the positive elements that marked a very intriguing series such as Virga shine. For this reason, all in all, the ending is fine for me and still convinces me to recommend reading the whole series.