Terra Ignota has been living in my mind like lightning trapped in a bottle ever since I picked up Too Like The Lightning. Ada Palmer’s use of language, her creative vision for the future, and the intricate ways she reveals the workings of her world astounded me. The successive books only cemented my appreciation and love for the series. The philosophical nature of the series, Palmer’s strangely addictive dense writing and genuine engagement with the ideas of utopia just hits the spot. All of these elements combine to transform a book that could have been a slog into something magical. With all of that baggage going into this, I was anxious and incredibly excited to get my hands on this book. While the final installment of any series is always bitter-sweet, and Ada Palmer’s Perhaps the Stars is more than just the end of a story. It is the opening of a Pandora’s Box of secrets and ideas that closes out Terra Ignota with style, substance, and serenity. Mild spoilers for the series ahead, if you haven’t read the other books and want to remain completely pure you can find earlier reviews here.
War is upon the Hives. The Remakers are pitted against the Hiveguard. Mitsubishi has fielded a fleet in the Mediterranean to rescue J.E.D.D. from the Masons. J.E.D.D. Mason is awaiting the unconditional surrender of anyone and everyone to his will to remake the world. The Cousins are working to stave off the majority of the violence. Utopia seems to be everyone’s target after they sequestered all of the harbingers and captured those who could possibly make them. It’s hard to tell which figures are on which side, and what the sides are actually fighting for. Alliances are shifting, Hives are fracturing, and all of the normal lines of communication are down. The fog of war settles across the Earth, and it’s up to the ninth Anonymous to make heads or tails of the situation to ensure as few people are harmed as possible. Will the Hive system survive, or will geography reassert its dominance and re-establish physical nations?
Perhaps the Stars is an absolute whopper of a finale in terms of story, revelations, density, and page count. I will level with you, this book is a herculean effort to read – in a positive way. It is the kind of book that you can only read 30 pages of at a time and requires a huge amount of percolation on its ideas. It feels like this is the moment that Palmer has been building to, and for fans of the series, she absolutely delivers. The war without borders is a veritable nightmare. Even with months of preparation, the Hives are unevenly prepared with no clear objective stated for the many sides of the war. The lack of transportation reintroduces time and distance, something the Hives have not dealt with. Adding to the tension of the war, the story is mostly told through the eyes of the ninth Anonymous as they work to feed information about changes to the wider public. Palmer does an amazing job of making the chaos of war feel real. Her control of narrative makes perfect use of unreliable narration to put you into the conflict. Conflicting information and propaganda clash as Romanova tries to sort through the noise to find the signal. It feels both removed from the situation and heavily pressured by it.
One of the things that Palmer excels at is creating truly historical scenes. There are moments throughout the series that feel like you are witnessing something historical and I always get chills when I think of them. Palmer doesn’t stray from this mentality and even further indulges the reader in them. Mostly these come in the form of the truly gargantuan battles littered throughout the book. They are some amazing spectacles that will shock and awe. Rarely does she engage in a play by play, allowing the dialogue and the confusion to stew as the narrator recounts it. Palmer clearly understands how to portray inertia, and the horror of watching it change in a matter of seconds. War in Perhaps the Stars is terrifying, despite the amount of effort put towards reducing its impact on human life.
Perhaps the Stars also cements Palmer as a mastermind of payoffs. Perhaps engages in this strange and innovative decentralized storytelling that can make the plot of the book feel like 50 subplots in a trenchcoat. Throughout the previous books, there have been little quirky mysteries scattered about. Since they are written with such a conversational and almost conspiratorial tone, it feels like Palmer has hidden entire stories in her sleeves. Luckily, Palmer keeps her magician’s cloak on and slowly and confidently pulls them out revealing them with both grace and subtlety before the mindblowing prestige. I can’t believe the amount of information she was able to hide in plain sight. The core plot of the book feels similar to a boat that is ferrying all of these tiny mysteries to their destination. I found myself chatting constantly with others about the small stories in the book as they are these tiny pearls of brilliance.
I could talk endlessly about this series. I have talked a lot about it, with people who have and haven’t read it. It’s weird, it’s fun, it’s supremely clever, and it’s a dazzling spectacle grounded by legal minutiae. I want more people to take a crack at it, and Perhaps the Stars closing the series out makes it even easier to recommend. Palmer brings everything together, addressing every question you have as a reader. If you’re already a fan, and haven’t picked up this book, go out and find a copy. Take my copy, just make sure you give it back. If you haven’t tried the series, give it a go. It’s challenging, but so are most things of any value.
Rating: Perhaps the Stars 10/10