I have been a fan of S.M. Stirling’s work for quite some time. I discovered his novels in a tent library in the Middle East somewhere around the start of our current wars- I would go there to relax between work and missions. The libraries were populated by donations from the USO and other organizations; there would always be the latest books on offer.
One day I found a hardcover first edition of “Dies the Fire,” I read the back cover, liked the premise, and was hooked thereafter. I still have that book; I brought it home in my duffel. It occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf to this day.
“Dies the Fire” was the first book in the Change series, and “The Sea Peoples” is the latest offering. For years Stirling has released a new book in the series at about this time every year, and I’ve looked forward to them each time. This year was no exception.
Let’s talk about “The Sea Peoples.” First, this book should not be read as a standalone. I think if you try that you’ll be lost as all the characters are grown through the preceding works. So by all means read the Change, or Emberverse, series from beginning to end. Stirling’s latest offering will make sense if you do so. In addition, I would recommend that you read the “Nantucket” series first, as they are linked on the flip side of the Change series. I know, it’s a lot of reading, but in my opinion it’s well worth it.
I will attempt to do this review without significant spoilers. First off, the book is a bit esoteric as it uses the switchback technique between events that happen in the “real” world, and events that happen in the dream sequence of Prince John and companions. Both are linked to each other in a way that makes sense, and the two halves come together at the conclusion. The finale is open-ended, of course, as befits a book that is meant as a bridge in a series.
The writing bears all of Stirling’s hallmarks. There is a lot of action, vividly described. There are feasts, recreated in loving detail. Then there are various stages and settings for the scenes, strikingly described. His universe, while wholly fictional, is immersive, detailed, and believable. The “good” guys are likable, and the “bad” guys are repulsive. I find myself cheering for the heroes, and wanting to run a sword through the villains. This is success on the part of the writer.
One needs an imagination to enjoy his latest work, and the ability to suspend disbelief. Of course, Stirling writes about a future where gods walk the earth once more and demons fill the black voids left behind by modern society’s death. If you can put yourself in a universe where cities are desolate, rotten deathtraps and sources of salvage and survivors attempt to recreate civilization in the ruins, then this series and his latest offering are for you.
The author casts us into a near-to-far future where danger is omnipresent, ghosts are real, and the stakes for humanity are high. Recommend this book as an installment on an excellent series.