Emperox Grayland II received the first evidence that the predictions presented by Marce Claremont were correct and the shoals of the Flow started disappearing. The whole Interdependency is in danger but not everyone believes that it’s real, while for someone, especially in the Nohamapetan House, the possible changes are an opportunity to reach the throne.
While Grayland II announces to the Church of the Interdependency that she had visions, Marce Claremont realizes that his father’s theories can be completed by the research of Hatide Roynold, who until then he considered his rival. Predicting in a more precise way the future of the the Flow shoals will help but only if the Emperox manages to stay alive.
John Scalzi originally planned a story split into two novels of an interstellar empire that exists thanks to the Flux, which allows trips of many light years in a relatively short time. Later, the author decided to develop the story in a trilogy of which “The Consuming Fire” is the central part that begins where “The Collapsing Empire” ended. This is a case in which you need to read all the parts of the story to fully understand it.
In “The Collapsing Empire” John Scalzi introduced the interstellar empire built by humans of the distant future at the beginning of a moment of crisis due to the discovery that the Flow shoals are not stable and that the disappearance of a part of them will isolate various colonies. The story was made from the beginning more complex by a strong element of intrigue with a faction ready to do anything to take the throne.
I expressed some concerns about “The Collapsing Empire” but I must say that John Scalzi continued the story in “The Consuming Fire” in a way that seemed convincing to me, developing the various themes in ways that strengthened them. In essence, in the second novel the author expanded what he began in the first one, depth-wise and not only plot-wise.
Sometimes in the story there’s quite some exposition but in some cases it’s necessary or at least useful. The only case in which it seemed too much to me is when the Nohamapetans and their accomplices discuss in my opinion too much their plans against Emperox Grayland II. In general, however, even when the pace slows down the exposition isn’t boring.
John Scalzi keeps on using scientific theories about the Flow as a narrative expedient without providing many explanationss because this is not a hard science fiction series and the author is interested in the consequences of the changes in the flow shoals and the reactions to the warnings about their instability. In the case of the explanations about the history of the Interdependency, he offers a better understanding of how it works in the period told in the novels.
In “The Collapse of the Empire” there was already a part concerning the discovery by Emperox Grayland II of what’s behind the Interdependency’s facade. These themes are among the ones developed even more in “The Consuming Fire” with the revelation of the techniques that we could partly define as marketing used to build the imperial power and this offers food for thought on political, economic and religious powers.
Grayland II can be considered an Emperox by chance due to the circumstances that led her to the throne of the Interdependency but she’s not stupid and started using the means at her disposal to get what she wants and to maintain her throne. The ability to find the information she needs to avoid the collapse of the Interdependency is important because knowledge is also a form of power but obtaining it isn’t always easy.
The element of intrigue becomes, if possible, even more important in “The Consuming Fire” and most of the many twists of the novel are linked to it. The tone seemed to me more dramatic than “The Collapsing Empire” even if there are funny moments and romantic interludes that John Scalzi luckily manages to tell in a non-cheesy way.
Overall, “The Consuming Fire” seems to me to be an improvement compared to “The Collapsing Empire” which makes the Interdependency series more interesting. This second novel also ends with some important events that will be developed in the third novel. If that’s not a problem for you and you find the story interesting, this novel could do for you.