In a world where some of the best science fiction sagas have glittered on the silver and smaller screens, we decided to look pick up a classic book in the genre that takes space opera to a whole new level. That book is the first title in Kevin J Anderson’s sweeping Saga of Seven Suns, Hidden Empire.
The story is told from a number of different viewpoints across several different societies which dominate the Spiral Arm of our galaxy. Set several hundred years in our future, much of the human race is united under the dominion of the Terran Hanseatic League, a vast commercial empire with wealth and power beyond counting. While they possess a great deal of power and wealth already, under the leadership of Chairman Basil Wenceslas the Hansa seek greater power in the vast expanse of space. To that end the human race discovers and utilises an ancient alien device, the Klikiss Torch, that gives the race the ability to create suns and develop more worlds for humanity to spread to. Meanwhile the powerful yet insular Ildiran Empire looks on at the younger upstart race as their ambitions begins a war with a powerful enemy that could destroy all the races of the galaxy if left unchecked.
The first of seven books, Hidden Empire is a triumph in the science fiction genre which lets readers into a familiar yet vastly different universe from the one we currently inhabit. By utilising human and alien characters Anderson crafts a real and immersive world that is big enough to keep readers reading for chapter after chapter. This is helped by the shifting to multiple viewpoint characters, which was similarly done in books like Game of Thrones, yet is all the more essential here since it covers a wide array of different and altogether unusual characters.
What makes this book work so well as an introduction is how it doesn’t stop to spoon feed the reader with pages of exposition. While there is an occasional aside to help flesh out the backstory of the Hansa, and the other human races as well as the Ildirans these are woven seamlessly into the narrative which helps a reader to catch up to the characters background smoothly so we can focus on the more immediate story line. Anderson also makes use of a multitude of different characters with different skills which each add a whole new layer to the events of the story and to the vast conflicts which take place across space and on the many worlds of the Spiral Arm.
It would be impossible to pick a single character that we would call a favourite, simply because there are so many which change and evolve that to pick one would feel almost like sacrilege. That being said we did find ourselves quite taken with the character of Raymond Aguerra, a teenager in a working class family who finds himself thrust into the dark underbelly of the Hansa’s political manuevers when Chairman Wenceslas kidnaps him and prepares to groom him for a role in his organisation. Similarly we were also taken with Jora’h, the sun of the Ildiran Mage-Imperator whose thirst for different cultures sees him defying the traditions of his people.
Without a doubt the pacing of Hidden Empire is pitch perfect and Anderson has a great eye for detail. This allows him to plan out his vast interstellar conflicts to the finest point, while also allowing himself the room to sweep through larger events and focus on what is really important as he weaves his story. This helps to give his characters a great universe for them to act in and keeps the reader thoroughly entertained throughout. It also helps a great deal as the mysterious Hydrogue race emerge as a force in the galaxy as he focuses on the threat they pose more than the race themselves since their uniquely alien nature makes them as different from Human or Ildiran as they could possibly be.
While we loved the whole of Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns, we cannot help but be drawn back to this first novel since it crafts the world which kept readers captivated throughout its seven book run. As far as space opera goes, this is one of the finest examples we have seen in years and any self respecting science fiction fan should have this on their shelf as soon as possible.