There Before The Chaos by K B Wagers

October 11, 2018

Please note, events in There Before The Chaos take place after the end of The Indranan War trilogy. If I were you, I’d be inclined to read those three books first, if you haven’t already. If you don’t then it is highly likely this review will contain spoilery type stuff. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The battle for the throne is over. The war for the galaxy is just beginning.

Hail Bristol, former gunrunner and newly-crowned Empress of Indrana, looks forward to retiring her gun and rebuilding her Empire in peace. After a bloody civil war laced with regicide, betrayal, and foreign plots, Hail and her people are braced for years of necessary reconstruction and reform.

But when Indrana’s closest ally asks Hail to intervene in an interstellar military crisis, she must instead embark on the highest stakes diplomatic mission the Empire has ever faced. Caught between two alien civilizations at each other’s throats, she must uncover each side’s true intentions before all of humanity becomes collateral damage in a full-blown galactic war.

As a book reviewer, who has been around for a while*, I find myself in an incredibly fortunate position. From time to time publishers send me unsolicited books they think I’d enjoy. This is how I first discovered the work of K B Wagers. Behind The Throne arrived out of the blue one day, and I found myself immediately hooked. Cut to three years later and we’ve come a long way. The first book of The Farian War has been released and I could not be any happier.

There Before The Chaos picks up in the aftermath of Beyond The Empire. Hail Bristol has wholeheartedly embraced her role as Empress of Indrana. Through her leadership, a coup has been narrowly avoided and Indranan society has managed to survive. Unfortunately, Hail has had little opportunity to catch her breath, an empress’s work is never done. Elsewhere in the galaxy, a war between two alien races threatens to escalate and drag humanity into a bloody conflict. Diplomacy may offer a solution but the only mediator all sides are willing to consider to is Hail.

Like its predecessors, There Before The Chaos strikes a perfectly judged balance between political intrigue and interplanetary action thriller. There are plots within plots as Hail and her friends try to unpick the instigator of her latest woes. Hail continues to be the emotional lynchpin of the narrative. She is not subtle when it comes to making her feelings known, it’s the thing I love most about her. Hail’s gut responses act as a wonderful counterpoint to many of the other characters who are bound by formality and rules. Chancellor and advisors are expected to maintain their composure at all times, empresses less so.  

K B Wagers always nails it when it comes to her characters. I love the culture clash that exists between the groups in Hail’s life. There are the politicians, senior military officials and bodyguards who help with the smooth running of the Indranan Empire, and then there are those who Hail knew back when she was known as Cressen Stone, gunrunner extraordinaire. The back in forth that exists in all these relationships is well realised and feels comfortably natural. Somehow, all these individuals have, through Hail, become one large dysfunctional family. It makes sense. Hail is like a feisty planet around which everyone else cannot help but orbit. For the curious among you, character wise, Johar and Hao remain personal favourites. Johar is as incorrigible as ever. Happy to just be along for the ride, she is at her best as long as there is plenty of booze, enough to eat and some good fighting. Hao is a different matter. He has always been caught between two worlds and in this novel, he is finally forced to make a decision about his future. It has been a long-time brewing and I can guarantee there will be repercussions.

 Where There Before The Chaos also succeeds is in its exploration of Farian culture. In the first trilogy, the only real evidence of the Farians was in the character Fase. In this new book, K B Wagers takes the opportunity to start digging deeper into the roots of this alien society. The main story focuses directly on a religious and political schism that ripped this race in two.

From Hail’s perspective, being an ex-gunrunner does have some distinct advantages. When people meet her for the first time there is a certain expectation that comes along with her near legendary status. This allows her the opportunity to be delightfully blunt when she feels the need to be. She can also easily defy people’s inherent prejudices. Ultimately, I think Hail’s approach to mediation sits somewhere between insightful, well-judged political savvy and low, animal cunning. More often than not this appears to be the entirely appropriate course of action.

At the very top of this page I suggested you read The Indranan War before you tackle this book, and I’m going to reiterate that point again. Though There Before The Chaos is perfectly serviceable if read without any prior knowledge, there is a whole heap of backstory that has gone before. You really need/want to be aware of the sci-fi epicness. Trust me, it’s well worth your time. I credit The Indranan War with getting me back into reading science fiction again on a regular basis

There Before The Chaos ends with a perfectly executed WTF! moment. Eventually, after I managed to get my jaw back up off the floor, I realised that this book has achieved exactly what I had hoped it would do. I was emotionally exhausted, in a good way, and thoroughly entertained. If fiction doesn’t make you feel like this then something has gone horribly wrong. If you are you looking for science fiction with brains, and a buckload of heart, then look no further.  

K B Wager’s latest novel manages the trickiest of tasks, deftly moving from galactic spanning space opera to insightful character piece and back again without missing a single beat. To accompany the book I needed some music that managed that same feat. I went with the game soundtrack to Stellaris by Andreas Waldetoft. Often awe inspiring but also sometimes delicate and intimate; this is an ideal match.

There Before The Chaos is published by Orbit and it available now. Highly recommended.

*Since the dawn of time, if you were wondering.

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