O! To rule the sun
I would trample on your hands,
tear the world apart!
This is the second, superior volume of the Virga series. While over-archingly it is still set in the same planet-sized bubble of air, it is almost entirely contained within a single megastructure. While most of the "nations" of Virga are almost steam-punk contraptions of wood & rope & rocket jets, Greater Spyre is a cyclopean cylinder under rotation. These means there is low gravity for the bulk of the book, though the unique physics (or well, the physics are the same, it is the application that is unearthly) of the world are not lost. In the center of Greater Spyre is a more traditional "nation," but the Spyre itself has been subdivided into apartment style feudal lands, each with epochs of history to turn inwards & become all House of Usher. I should commend Schroeder on his use of words here-- there are subtle touches, rules really, that he keeps. The nations nearest the sun of suns at the center of the bubble (for there are many artificial suns) are the "principalities," a point not stressed but a corner of the world nicely defined with constant nomenclature. This is beside nice little turns of phrase he's coined, like "Artificial Nature" to apply to whatever the post-human futuretech outside of Virga is or, "Emergent Government" & "Rights Currency"-- he keeps his more, well to use a word I cobbled together today, Stephensonian impulses on a leash thus: names them & moves on.
The star here is Venera Fanning, the sociopathic spymaster of the previous book. Of course, like all stories that focus on the coldblooded, she grows a heart, but for all of that, she's great. It is nice to see a well realized female protagonist who kicks a lot of ass, & believably. No superpowers other than willpower, you know? She will cut a fool if that is what needs done. She goes from naked & badly burnt, her only friend an over the hill gigalo, to the axis mundi of Spyre. Ha, I shouldn't casually say axis mundi-- the climax of the book happens at a literal one. Oh, & she has sex? & isn't defined by it? What? Great! & hey look characters! People, & like the way I prefer my stories, they are all pretty complex! I liked this one more than Sun of Suns, & I liked that one; I'm debating whether I'll pick up the next one as soon as I hit send on this. I probably will.