(2013) Brenda Cooper, Pyr £13.99/ US$11.99 US, pbk, 450pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14855-3
This is the second volume in what I'm assuming is a two-parter, since events at the end leave another sequel unlikely. It is science fiction, and the author unashamedly sets it up as Eva Peron in space, which both gives it momentum and weighs it down.
The first volume, The Creative Fire (Pyr, 2012) is set on an exploratory 'generation' ship in deep space where the 5,000-odd inhabitants live under a cruel cast system. Ruby Martin, a teenager and one of the underclass, foments revolution and inspires change through her singing. The first volume ends – and the second starts, with the new order in place. If you want to read The Creative Fire (and I suggest you do if you want to fully appreciate The Diamond Deep since the second volume does not waste time reintroducing characters or recapping much) there is an inevitable spoiler here, but not really too much of a surprise: the rebels win. Ruby and her older lover Joel run the ship, though dissent is still rife…
So far, so Evita. Book two has the 'Creative Fire' (the ship, not the book) returning to its home system and finding it very changed. They dock at an orbital space station ((with at least fifteen million inhabitants) called 'The Diamond Deep'. Instead of being treated as returning heroes they once again become the underclass, and face a life of drudgery and exploitation, their cargo stolen and enemies everywhere. The Diamond Deep (station not book) is rich, corrupt and cruel but Ruby has songs in her head and revolution in her heart…
This is character-driven hard-SF, but apart from Ruby I found it hard to distinguish between most of them, particularly the minor characters, though I appreciate many of them are ciphers for personalities in the Peron legend. I like both the main point of view characters, Ruby and her childhood friend and lieutenant Onor, but with reservations. I lost sympathy with Ruby when Joel, early on, has her enemies killed, and although the author seeks to retain our sympathy by making it clear Ruby had nothing to do with it and (rather weakly) disapproved of it, the fact that she effectively condones Joel's actions by continuing to sleep with him and prop up his regime undermines her. Onor’s flaw is to have a child with Ruby's friend Marcelle, because he cannot have Ruby herself. That makes him potentially the most interesting character in the book, and the parts where we see events through his eves are the most satisfying.
Along the way we have pirate attacks, artificial intelligences and human-robot creatures who turn from enemies to friends. The lack of knowing whether your friends are you enemies or your enemies your friends, and the shifting nature of those allegiances, makes this book quite readable, with some twists and turns that I suspect only an Evita expert would find telegraphed.
The ending is bittersweet, which I am sure will not come as a surprise given the source material, and the plot moves along at a satisfying pace, giving rise to some can't-put-the-book-down tension towards the end. The writing style is very YA (Young Adult), though some of the themes (sex, rape etc) place it firmly in the adult market. But the cleanness of style makes it an easy read, once you have worked out who is who and what is going on. It ladles its politics rather unsubtly and glosses over the counter-arguments, and perhaps some more subtlety and nuance would have helped but the force of Ruby’s fight for her people is very engaging. I would not go as far as recommending this, but it has its strengths and as the story progressed I did find myself enjoying it more and more.
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