(2008) Theodore Judson, Pyr, £?, pbk, 253pp, ISBN 978-1-591-02643-3
Judson is a very good writer and has created some wonderful characters herein, including Peter Black, the general of the title, and his daughter Justa who relates this tale of the end of an empire. I say this up front because some readers may feel that this book owes more than a little to Gibbon's Decline and Fall..., not least as the Emperor Luke Anthony is clearly a Caligula-like figure. The 'action' takes place between 2278 and 2293, but provides little more than a backdrop for Justa's story. She is the illegitimate daughter of Black, beautiful, intelligent and perceptive, and learns her philosophy at the feet of the Emperor Mathias, encountering there the young and sadistic Luke Anthony. The Empire maintained its dominance through superior technology, but falls victim to a metal-eating plague just at the time when Anthony becomes Emperor. His excesses drain the treasury while his associates terrorise the population and the Empire's enemies nibble away at its edges. Throughout all, Black continues to serve Anthony, out of loyalty to his father and his own notions of honour. Meanwhile Justa has to avoid marriage while keeping herself and, through her advice, her father safe from Luke Anthony. By the time Anthony is assassinated Black is on Mars but, since the metal plague has reached there, must return to Earth before he is stranded. Some see him as a contender for the throne, but both Justa and Black know that they are just pawns of the merchant classes, the leading players of which each back more than one candidate...
This is a very entertaining novel, both amusing and intelligent with excellent prose and endearing characters. The 'Golden-Age' feel is both set-up and enhanced by the lovely cover illustration by Sparth. This is a fairly short book (by modern standards) and would be easily gulped down in a single sitting but, by the same token, would also recommend itself for re-reading. Either way it is an impressive addition to Pyr's list and, like many another title, bodes well for their future output. Recommended.
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