Occasionally a book comes along that makes you stop and put down anything else you are working on so you can read it. For me that was The Golden Princess by SM Stirling, the 11th book in the Emberverse series and the first in a new trilogy, where the children’s children of those who survived the Change now take center state. I won’t give a summary on the series itself. Just remember this series began when all electronic, gunpowder and other forms of modern technology stopped working in 1998. If you want to know more about it, check out the series article on Wikipedia (and I am not ashamed to admit I created said article). Be warned, major spoilers incoming.
The Golden Princess begins immediately after the end of The Given Sacrifice. Rudi Mackenzie, also known as Artos I the High King of Montival (formerly the Pacific Northwest), is dead, killed by a possessed prisoner captured after an easy victory. His daughter and heir, Órlaith, is now the bearer of the Sword of the Lady, the mystical weapon Rudi gained on a quest across country to Nantucket that began in The Sunrise Lands. Desperate for revenge, Órlaith allies herself with Reiko, now the Empress of Japan, who traveled to America with her father to track down the location of the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the legendary “Grass Cutting Sword” and one of three Imperial Regalia of Japan. With it she hopes to use it to defend her people from the unceasing Korean raids (cannibal Korea is best Korea) that threaten to destroy her people. To do so, however, Órlaith must gather a band of warriors from across the High Kingdom to survive the dead city of Los Angeles, fight off cannibalistic tribes, cross Death Valley and find a hitherto unknown castle (likely Scotty’s Castle) where the sword is supposedly kept.
Fans of Stirling and the Emberverse series will be satisfied by this new chapter. Stirling’s skill as a world builder is still as sharp as ever. Considering that the last six books focused on what happened in North America, it appears Stirling plans to flesh out the rest of the world in this new series, especially those lands around the Pacific that he has only given the barest hints of in online discussion forums. There was one chapter I found to be especially humorous that was set in the Kingdom of Capricornia, an Australian survivor state centered around Darwin and ruled by a tuckerized author well-known to alternate historians. I am hoping that we can see more from this corner of the world either in a stand-alone novel or in the upcoming anthology of stories set in the Emberverse.
Still the book’s major weakness is how slow the story takes to get going. I mentioned The Sunrise Lands previously and there are a lot of similarities between the two books, with both Rudi and Órlaith going off on a quest without telling those able to stop them. I feel, however, that Rudi accomplished more at the end of The Sunrise Lands (and his quest still had five more books to go), then his daughter did in her own book. Perhaps Stirling wanted to spend more time acclimating new readers to the series who may be starting here instead of with book one. Or its just as possible Stirling wrote too much and thus had to split this book in two, which has happened before. Either way veteran readers may not enjoy the pay off at the end.
Still when is all is said and done I enjoyed The Golden Princess. I finished it in less than a week and felt that familiar realization that I had a year to go before I could read another Emberverse story. To me a book that keeps you engaged and wanting more is worthy of a recommendation.