Darien is no longer a lost outpost of humanity, but the prize in an intergalactic power struggle. Hegemony forces have a stranglehold over the planet and crack troops patrol its hotspots while Earth watches, passive, rendered impotent by galactic politics. But its Darien ambassador will soon become a player in a greater conflict. There is more at stake than a turf war on a newly discovered world.I read Mike Cobley's first epic space opera book, Seeds fo Earth, prior to its release last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Orphaned Worlds, the sequel and part two of the trilogy, was a highly anticipated release for this year and upon getting a copy through the post I made sure it was high on the list of to-read books. While not quite on the same level as Seeds of Earth, The Orphaned Worlds delivers a whole lot of action, adventure and politics on a canvas even bigger than the first novel!
An ancient Uvovo temple hides access to a hyperspace prison, housing the greatest threat sentient life has ever known. Millennia ago, malignant intelligences were caged there following an apocalyptic war. And their servants work on their release.
However, Darien’s guardians have not been idle, gathering resistance on the planet’s forest moon. Knowledge has been lost since great races battled in eons past, and now time is short. The galaxy will depend on the Uvovo reclaiming their past - and humanity must look to its future. For a new war is coming.
The foundation laid down in Seeds of Earth gets us introduced to the lost colony world of Darien, the surprise arrival of an Earthsphere ship and the discovery of an ancient and powerful relic on Darien as well as delivering an excellent cast of characters that kept the story focused. The Orphaned Worlds picks things up without holding its breath and delivers very much more of the same sensawunda that I got from the first book. The characters return and we follow the trouble and strife they now must struggle through in the face of powerful adversaries.
Widescreen isn't quite the term I'd use to describe this book, it goes far beyond that in many ways! From the guerrilla conflict on Darien to the immense journey through the ancient hyperspace layers, The Orphaned Worlds certainly doesn't take things lightly. The characters are also relatable and enjoyable to read, especially as we start to get glimpses of Legion and it's own quest. Greg and Theo are left on Darien trying to survive and lead the attack on the invaders; Robert is on a mission to the ancient Construct deep in hyperspace; Kao Chich is journeying to try and find help for the colony of Darien; Catriona and Chel are learning more of the ancient ways of the Uvovo and the secrets the forest moon of Segrana; Legion is slowly fighting it's battle to free the ancient evil that was imprisoned thousands of years ago. There are also a host of other characters supporting these main ones, including Julia who is a little out of the action after being captured in Seeds of Earth.
However, The Orphaned Worlds loses it's focus slightly because of the sheer number of plot threads we follow. While all individually adding to the bigger picture, the pages pass without much feeling of urgency. For instance, the first seven chapters are each from a different perspective and last 90 pages, so when we finally catch up again with the characters it's with a feeling of detachment. I sometimes had to stop reading and go back to remind myself of the situation they were in last time they had some page time - it can be a frustrating read because of this.
Don't get me wrong though, The Orphaned Worlds was very enjoyable and delivers a good story on a huge canvas with more than its fair share of great scenes and interesting developments. Being the middle book of the trilogy hasn't helped matters and much of the time it feels like a big build up to a grand finale - without the payoff. Because of this it's very difficult to say how successful the novel is as part of the series, but it certainly gives the reader more than enough to come back for the third installment, The Ascendant Stars.
Humanity's Fire is definitely a series worth reading and I'll be eagerly anticipating the final book next year!