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Terminus by Tristan Palmgren. Book review

October 28, 2018

Book cover of Terminus showing a spaceship with blue afterburners and two figures on the ground watching it, one a black shiny humanoid another wrapped in a black cloak.

With the transdimensional empire of the Unity fractured, its rulers and agents find themselves isolated to thousands of planes of existence. Exiled to Earth, the living planarship Ways and Means has cured Europe of the Black Death in its master plan for what it has in mind next for the planet. But some of the agents it has on the ground begin to recognise some worrying inconsistencies with the way Earth’s history is developing and that it might not be just their lives that are in danger. These irregularities are adding up to more than their own personal safety and may affect more than the planet they have come to think of as their home.

Set ten years after the first story, Terminus explores the history of the condottieri, the mercenary armies who roamed a politically fractured Italy in the years after the plague, laying waste and seizing portions of land for their paymasters to control.

Niccoluccio, the monk , was a wonderful character to wrap the first book, Quietus,around, but in the female soldier and leader, Fiametta of Treviso, Tristan Palmgren has created an equally fascinating muse and one that has scope for more intriguing narratives. She is a type of Joan of Arc but, given the science fiction element and her hearing voices, also reminiscent of Mary Gentle’s female soldier, Ash.

Terminus revolves around Fiametta, but also brings in two of the characters from Quietus. Meloku, the villain of the first book, is now wiser and more staid, even regretting her previous actions. Osia, anthropologist Dr Habidah Shen’s superior in the Quietus, is to be found aboard a Chinese Junk collecting intelligence from the Far East for Ways and Means.

I said in my review for Quietus that I would be very happy to read any historical fiction written by Palmgren, given the quality of that part of his story. But he has taken the blend of alternative history, actual history and science fiction to produce a narrative that is absorbing in its detail and driving plot, and made it his own.

Conceptually this is a book that is easier to follow than Quietus, probably because I was already acclimatised to the world of the amalgamates and the way history was being influenced by Ways and Means. It is no less a fascinating read than the first, particularly as Palmgren has cleverly worked in a new protagonist and used two original characters in slightly different roles. The breadth of his imagination combined with historical fact has created something different and compelling.

I really want to know what happens next because, for me, there is still plenty of story yet to explore in this blend of history, an intriguing fictional historical character with a sharp strategic mind, and how it might be managed by those with advanced technology at their disposal.

Terminus was courtesy of Angry Robot via NetGalley.

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