My rating is 4 out of 5 stars.
Even though I enjoyed The Sky People, the first novel in S.M. Stirling’s duology, I was not really excited to read this book. I mean, it is a scifi novel about Mars, and my book list contains several of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books. Honestly, how can anyone top John Carter? But after finishing, I have to say that Stirling did a stupendous job of making this Mars a cool place. It had a haunting similarity to Barsoom but with a history and flavor all its own.
The story itself is standard pulp scifi; a continuation of the story begun in The Sky People. By 2000, both the Soviets and Americans have established small enclaves on Mars, but whereas Venus was a pristine wilderness with savage natives, Martian civilzation is millenium older than Earth’s own with a very rich history. Indeed, the remnants of the world spanning Tollamune Empire still exists and functions upon the red planet, safe and secure under the gargantuam mountain called Olympus Mons. There the current emperor resides; his lordship belonging to a ruling dynasty that once ruled the whole planet and spans back thousands of years into Earth’s remote past. Indeed, even in its death throws, Martian science still surpasses Earth’s in such areas as genetic engineering; a skill which seemingly pervades all areas of Martian life including their weapons and landships.
Our tour guide through this ancient realm is archeologist Jeremy Wainman who has been rocketed to Mars by the U.S. Aero-Space Force; his mission to explore the lost city of Rema-Dza out in the “Great Beyond”, i.e., the Martian desert. To aid Jeremy, his bosses in the USASF contracts with a female Martian mercenary, Teyud za-Zhalt, to lead the expedition and basically keep Jeremy from getting killed. Of course, while keeping Jeremy alive, our Martian mercenary falls in love with him.
But the fun doesn’t stop there, because you see there is more to Teyud than meets the eye. When the expedition discovers an ancient Martian artifact at the lost city, she stops being Jeremy’s lover and protector and turns into the one needing protection. From there, the book only gets better and better as political intrigue, duels, and unknown alien forces erupt in our story. And all the while, the reader gets to learn more and more about this very cool Mars and its intriguing science and history. Even the ending, though completely expected, is entertaining. My only reget as I laid the book down was that I would not read any more stories of Stirling’s Mars.