It is in the nature of all authoritarian regimes to decease. Anything built by slaves and upon a foundation of rot, inevitably eats itself from the inside out.” - Terran Morale Officer Handbook
"Prophetic" is an apt description for this book. A dire warning which, in typical Black Knight fashion, is not devoid of hope, however. What "could be" might be horrific but it is not set in stone, not if you follow the Terran way.
What I have come to really enjoy about the series is the time we get to spend with the characters. I'm convinced that there has to be some unwritten rule authors blindly follow, that states characters cannot have too much time spent in the limelight. How does this make sense for a book, I do not know, but thankfully the Black Knight has never followed suit. What other authors try to cram into a page or two, at most, he is sensible enough to do in a chapter. In almost all my favorite works of fiction, I was always left wanting just a little bit more. Just a moment or two of the characters hanging around, being themselves. I never get that feeling with the Starshatter series. Don't get me wrong, I can never get enough of the Starshatter crew, but I've never felt cheated out of spending enough time with them. This way of structuring the books also solves a lot of pacing issues and prevents the author from cramming explanations or unwelcome character moments in the midst of the action. Everything, meaning characters, actions, descriptions and exposition, gets to "breathe", so to speak, they have their places.
Even if we get a satisfactory amount of character moments, there are other things that the Black Knight leaves us questioning, wanting for more. Mysteries and riddles, that while you might not be able to outright guess, you are left with enough clues to build at least a few theories, something that is essential, in my opinion for any space opera series. Seven books in, we can safely assume we will only scratch the surface of this universe with the series. All the way back in my first review(shameless plug) I said that Starshatter pulls off the sense scale brilliantly. A universe where you feel there are countless stories to be told and we are just following one of them.
When I say we get to spend time with the characters, at this point you should know that it does not mean they get to just sit around doing nothing. They get to train, explore, learn and grow. As fighters or as people, depending on what they need. The way it is structured, the book reminds me a lot of "Treads of Vengeance", and when I thought about it, I was able to look at the bigger picture, just like a book, the whole series has ebbs and flows. That explained why "Princes Of The Stars" felt like a breath of air after the intensity of the last two books. The action, while present, takes a step back and gives the narrative room to explain and explore. Meaning, nothing it this series happens by accident. Everything is meticulously thought out, and nothing is left to chance.
The main focus of the book is with issues that have been mentioned or have been in the background before, but here they take front stage. The commentary on contemporary societal issues is stark but not clunky. Everything is woven into the fabric of the universe so it is not out of place.
“They always eat their own.”
First we get to explore the brilliant but decaying dzenta’rii society. Where merit, though respected, is not as important as one's looks or their little intricate societal games, devoid of any true meaning or purpose. Sound familiar? Yet, Anit’za does not give up on his people, even though he has every right to. He would do anything in his power to help them remember what they have forgotten. An idealistic endeavor, foolish even, but sometimes...sometimes a man has to draw a line in the sand and take on the world, because no one else will. Because only a true fool sits while the house is burning around him, waiting for the moment to say "I told you so", which will never come for everything, everyone will be nothing but ashes.
The action that follows is refreshingly small-scale. A lot of intense close-quarter fights, dodging and weaving, and best of all - outsmarting the enemy. Even though it is on a small scale, the combat still has layers to it, which at this point should be a surprise for anyone. The duels on display are really something to behold.
“You will not kill MY crew again, Clanner!”
Then we get to see the endgame, so to speak. If the fall from grace of the dzenta’rii society was depressing, the author shows us where that decay leads. A stark image that hits hauntingly close to home. When you lose your Terran way, when you've never even had it in the first place, you pay the price. Yet life finds a way, freedom finds a way, but a price must be paid. Someone might choose to pay it for you, now...what you do with that debt, the Universe would determine whether you were worth it or not.
“Better a glorious death than a disgraceful life.”
"Princes Of The Stars" is a worthy addition to the Starshatter series. Certainly a darker affair that, as is typical for the series, offers a hard-fought chance for victory. Hope that is earned. The issues raised would certainly give you food for thought, but as always you will close the book with a triumphant smile. Which is always an indication of a book worth reading.