The Will to Battle, by Ada Palmer

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Further, the author is a dear friend of a dear friend.

How do you prevent the world from destroying itself? I wish there was a time in my adult life when this had felt like an irrelevant question. I can certainly see why Ada made it the central question of this series; we’re about the same age, and it has been relevant since before we showed up on the planet.

And this is a book that spends basically all its time on that question, that one question: how do we keep the planet from destroying itself or more specifically all the humans. Is war inevitable, how big a war is inevitable, how big a war is permissible if it siphons energy off that would otherwise contribute to a more catastrophic war. What kinds of violence can be permitted between groups of people and in what conditions. This is all on the page, and it’s practically the only thing on the page; there is a moment of dramatic filibuster when a character chooses to read the articles of the world constitution on the page. (While the concerns fascinate me, that part of the writing style was not my favorite.)

And unfortunately, this very passionate concern is very thoroughly based on the worldbuilding of the previous two books–on the gender politics and the religious politics, specifically, but also on the class politics–that are working less and less well for me the more I see of them. The former two elements are not nearly as foregrounded in The Will to Battle as they were in Seven Surrenders, but they are basic to the functioning of the entire narrative; it’s impossible to say, okay, but never mind that part, because that’s the world, that’s the functioning of the whole system. It’s not moderated, it’s not soft-pedaled, it’s all there, so if you had trouble with suspension of disbelief about anything previously, there really isn’t anything to change that in this volume. It depends very heavily on the previous ones for plot and characterization. This is not a good place to start.

I think the thing that makes it most curious for me is that the focus is entirely on the very, very, very most powerful people in the world. The nosebleed levels of elite, the .00001%–and no one else. “The people” are pawns, rioters, never major actors, never forces of their own–no one is going to rise from the herd, no one is unexpected outside very narrow circles. The world is the canvas of this book, but the world’s population behaves like an ocean in ways that ultimately don’t end up working very well for me. Ada commented, in an interview a few books back, that issues like bash’ formation would be delved further into in later books. I’m wondering where there will be room, with this focus in so much of the volume of pages so far. I guess we’ll see.

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2 thoughts on “The Will to Battle, by Ada Palmer

  1. I bow to your superior knowledge of the canon. But could you name a series where the people aren’t a backdrop?
    It seems in my (limited) reading, the rabble are just that, unless needed for a plot point. Or the character is a nobody, until it’s revealed YOU’RE ACTUALLY LORD ORTO’S SON! or THE TRUE PRIESTESS OF GODDESS ISHMALI!
    Just my thoughts. Thanks!

    • That’s very much a political choice an author can make. Just to take the book I happen to be reading right now, Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman, the protagonist is not from a particularly rarefied caste, nor does she have to be in order for her life to be interesting. Deciding that “the rabble are just that” very much tells you about the politics of the speaker.

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