My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Twelve years have passed since the events of the first book, and the tension between the Datum US and the colonies, and between humans and nonhumans, is rapidly rising. The US sends a patrol of armed stepper zeppelins to patrol the worlds, the Chinese want to reach Erath East 20 million, the trolls are disappearing, and a new non-human threat… is vaguely annoying but only threatening because our characters make bad decisions? Yeah.
I’m afraid to say this is the first Pratchett book in decades I’ve found to be really unsatisfying. There is a lot going on on this book, several new characters are introduced, and a lot that could happen as a result of these events, but the storylines do not really gel in the end, or lead to any particular conclusion. Apart from a couple grand scenes, this book seems more an exercise in worldbuilding and setting for the next book – which, unfortunately, is a review that could apply to the first book as well.
Here be spoilers:
Joshua seems married only to give him a tether, a reason to hesitate before setting off for his new travels. He has previous little scenes with his family, and this has the unfortunate side effect of reducing his wife from the interesting character of the first book to a nagging stereotype who’s just trying to keep his husband home against his duty. Weak.
And the Beagles… they’re an interesting culture but they make for really lousy villains, considering that they can’t step without kobolds, and that a couple of twains would probably be able to keep their whole nation under siege. When Sally went away to retrieve the ring, you have to wonder why she didn’t come back with ships or armed help. That she trusted the Beagles not to hurt Joshua, if when/he showed up, is in sharp contrast to her words that she doesn’t know this people or know what makes them tick. This whole subplot seems artificially arranged only to horrifically hurt Joshua, and distract from the fact that he wasn’t really needed in this adventure: Sally found the trolls, and the Lobsang Light Show convinced them to come home.
The Chinese expedition is interesting, but that’s about it. It seems more like a collection of vignettes or short stories interspersed within the main plot, except the main plot is really not that interesting after all.