The Will To Battle – As Tense As The Last Round Of Musical Chairs

51ydnovnysl-_sx328_bo1204203200_We are back again with another review for a Terra Ignota book by Ada Palmer. This time it is for the third book in the series, The Will to Battle. As usual you can find the reviews of the previous books here and here, and if you don’t want some mild spoilers for the first books you should probably turn around now. Then again, I am not your boss so you do you.

We have arrived at the third book in the Terra Ignota series, and I am excited. These books are the fastest to rise to my tier 1 recommendation list, and each new book has only reinforced my decision to place the series that high. When we last left our group, the historical narration of the story had ended and we moved from the past tense into the present. The Will to Battle sees a dramatic shift in story telling style, as the previous two books were told from a historian’s perspective (with their knowledge of what happens in the future coloring how they describe events in the past). The last two books of the quartet are told in the present tense, creating a much more tense and exciting atmosphere. At the end of book two, Seven Surrenders, the hives were all poised for a giant clash. Tensions were high and war was looking potential for humanity for the first time in centuries. The Will to Battle is a book about the moments and tensions before a war, and dear god did it stress me the hell out. The book paints a picture of several groups ready to slaughter one another, each of which is just waiting for an excuse. The is the first thing I have ever read that feels like it paints a vivid picture of pre WWI tensions, where each party is eyeing the other distrustfully. As a result, every single thing in this book feels like it could be a world ending disaster and every decision and choice characters make feel important.

I had to put The Will to Battle down several times while I was reading it, simply because of how much it was stressing me out. The characters all feel like they are having match lighting competitions in a room waist deep in gunpowder, and waiting to see which match kills them all was a weird nightmare of fun. Of the team that read it, one person compared it to the feeling of walking a burning tightrope between skyscrapers and I myself thought it felt like riding a boat to the beaches of Normandy. On top of being an emotional roller coaster, Ada Palmer decided to actually flesh out and answer a lot of lingering world building questions about her universe in the third book. Tons of things are fleshed out and expanded on in The Will to Battle like, the backgrounds of hives, previously alluded to laws and concepts, backgrounds on characters and jobs, the minds of several leaders, and more. Palmer shows you a number of the homes of various hives, and their wonders at even more character to the diverse hives and ignited my imagination. The Will to Battle made me feel like I actually solidly understand Palmer’s world, but then again I felt the same way at the end of her book two so who even knows.

Everything that was amazing about Palmer’s previous books remains true with her third. The characters are complex and one of a kind. The politics are complicated, fascinating, and engrossing. The prose and writing is top tier. The plot is captivating and I have a physical need to know what happens next. The book is constantly surprising and delighting. It should be obvious at this point that everyone here at The Quill to Live recommends this series. It is probably one of the most difficult and rewarding things we have ever read, and we want the world to read it.

Rating: The Will to Battle – 9.5/10
-The Quill to Live team

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Seven Surrenders – Give In And Read It

30199364One of the benefits of taking a vacation can be a lot of travel time – which in my case means a lot of reading time. I managed to knock out some of my bigger to-reads while I was out, so let’s start with one of the densest books I have read this year, Ada Palmer’s sophomore effort: Seven Surrenders. This dense leviathan of a book is the sequel to Too Like The Lightning, one of the best science fiction novels I have read in a long time. The question is, does the sequel hold up and can Palmer recreate her lightning in a bottle, or make lighting strike in the same place twice, or… ok fine I will stop with the lightning puns.

If you haven’t read Too Like The Lightning, here is a link to a brief discussion of why the book is brilliant. Discovering the plot of both books is definitely a part of the appeal, so I will keep my spoilers to a minimum. Seven Surrenders picks up right where Too Like the Lighting left off. While Lightning was a book written to ask questions, Surrenders is a book made to provide answers. Palmer has said that she designed this quartet more like two sets of two books each. Following this, Seven Surrenders both does a great job wrapping up plots from the first book and setting up the second duo of novels. By the end of Lightning we learn of the existence of a number of dark secrets, plots, and ideas. Thus Seven Surrenders is about what happens when these dark facts that bind their society together comes to light, and about how that society unravels and changes in the light of the truth.

I know some of you read the last paragraph and felt that I actually said almost nothing of substance about the books other than some large words. As I mentioned, it is really hard to talk about the plots of these books because almost everything is a spoiler. However, while I won’t give away any of the plot – I can talk more about why this series continues to rise as one of my top science fiction stories I have ever read. So many books I have read seem to be written by authors on a path of discovery. Sure they have the basic outline of the plot, but they learn and change their narrative as they write it – characters rise and fall in levels of importance or certain parts of the world get more fleshed out as authors realize they want to expand on them as series progress. Palmer feels like she sat down and knew exactly what she was going to write from page one. These books feel meticulously planned out – each word and idea is there for a reason, contributing to the narrative as a whole. Her background in academia definitely shines through her work, as I feel I am reading a really compellingly written paper that is thoroughly entertaining to read.

Part of the additional wonder of these novels is Palmer is a master of arguing for, and against, her ideas. This series poses a number of interesting thought experiments and philosophical ideas. Ada is extremely good at showing you why these thoughts are good and righteous, only to often come back and tear down her own arguments with previously unthought of counter points. It creates a book series where you find yourself thinking and questioning everything constantly. These are not books for a passive reader – you will be an active part of the story every second you are in it. This can be exhausting, but as a result Lightning and Surrenders have generated some of the best discussions I have had in a decade from a book. Palmer’s skill for manipulating the reader through the narrative is on par with some of the best I have read. Her ability to organically shift the way I see and think of various characters with a single paragraph is astounding. I have flip flopped on which characters I am rooting for so many times that I have lost count, and the result is a book that feels real.

“Real” is a confusing concept when talking about works of fiction. In this instance what I really mean is that Palmer has made a world and narrative so immersive and so convincing that it feels closer to a historical text than a story someone wrote. The internal logic of the story is so tight that I find myself angry at characters for the choices they make, not at Palmer for the way she decided to write the story. These are the hallmarks of a master of narrative voice and worldbuilding and they make the victories and tragedies in Surrenders feel personal and emotionally resonant. As a result, the books can be a bit difficult to read. When something horrible happens to a character you like it can be saddening, but some of the awful things that happen in these books felt like they might be in my actual future and they occasionally filled me with despair.

This is a series that you should be reading, and will be talked about as one of the best in a generation in the coming years. The books require work to read, but like with all work you will appreciate and care about the end much more than you do in books where you are swept along with little involvement. Book three of this series, The Will to Battle, comes out this December, and if it stays as good as Seven Surrenders I am sure I will be adding this series to my tier 1 list at the end of the year.

Rating: Seven Surrenders – 9.5/10

-Andrew