Book review · novel

Book review: Impersonations, A Story of the Praxis

Impersonations: A Story of the Praxis (Dread Empire’s Fall), by Walter Jon Williams


Description: (from Macmillan )

Nebula Award-winning author Walter Jon Williams returns to the sweeping space opera adventure of his Praxis universe with an exciting new novel featuring the hero of Dread Empire’s Fall!

Having offended her superiors by winning a battle without permission, Caroline Sula has been posted to the planet Earth, a dismal backwater where careers go to die. But Sula has always been fascinated by Earth history, and she plans to reward herself with a long, happy vacation amid the ancient monuments of humanity’s home world.

Sula may be an Earth history buff, but there are aspects of her own history she doesn’t want known. Exposure is threatened when an old acquaintance turns up unexpectedly. Someone seems to be forging evidence that would send her to prison. And all that is before someone tries to kill her.

If she’s going to survive, Sula has no choice but to make some history of her own.

Expected publication: October 4th 2016, part of the Fall Line-Up.

A review copy (e-galley) of this book was provided by the publisher. 

I will begin by saying I’ve never read the Dread Empire’s Fall series (yet) nor any other book by Walter Jon Williams. I got this novel as an eARC/e-galley and as I liked the cover and the description I decided to go ahead and simply not review it if I didn’t like it, it wouldn’t have been fair. After a few pages, intrigued, I went to read the description of the first book to know if I was simply reading another story set in the same world or if the main character of Impersonations was also a character there. I was at the same time glad and worried to see that she was! Glad because I loved Caroline Sula, and wanted to spend more time with her, which mean now I want to read the Dread Empire’s Fall series: another one on my gigantic to-be-read pile! Worried because I was afraid to miss on things as I hadn’t read the original trilogy first and I didn’t know if maybe this novel was specifically for the fans and that’s it. Thankfully, I enjoyed it a lot.

As I said, I went into this story tiptoeing because I had no knowledge whatsoever of this world. I guess it spoils a lot of what happens in the trilogy since there are talks about some battles, how they were won/lost, who died and so on. I was afraid to not understand some things but the author actually reminds (or, in my case, “informs”) the reader of the aliens specificities such as their appearance, their culture and other facts that are of importance. Some historical facts about planets are also mentioned. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t bother even the reader that knows and loves this world since it is done quite swiftly, not lingering over descriptions, facts and explanations.

“The cities seemed no more or less venerable than cities on other worlds. The colors, she thought, were all wrong, beginning with the blue sky and the bright white light. She’d grown used to the deep green sky of Zanshaa and the planet’s more subtle coloration.”

I actually loved the diversity of the alien species present. They were not just alien with four arms four legs being blue or so on; they were insectoids (I know this is also common in SF, but in my opinion: it was well done) or mammals resembling cats and walking like humans. I’m not going to list them all, it’s way more fun to come across them when reading! I was a little lost at the mention of the different planets and of the historical background but it was explained quickly and didn’t lost me on the way, thumbs up for that!

“All the species under the Praxis required different conditions: no one wanted to be around Daimong because of the smell; the Lai-own needed a chair that cradled their keel-like breastbones; the diet of the Torminel made other species uneasy; and the Cree like to congregate in large, noisy groups.”

What made me stick with this book was the main character: Caroline Sula, war hero. But as the war is over, she is no longer needed for her warrior, commandment or pilot skills and is relocated to an easy job at the fleet dockyard that she doesn’t really like but that she tries to do well anyway because that’s how she is! She’s send to Earth, which is so not the more important planet in the galaxy, the central point of the system like you find in some space opera. Earth is actually that place you go if you don’t want your career to evolve, a dead-end you’re send to if you’ve done something wrong or upset someone else higher up the ladder and you’re send there as a punishment. But Sula is not like everyone else and is actually really into planet Earth (or Terra), she is passionate about Terran History before its conquest by the Shaa. You could see her as a History geek, there were times when she was discussing it that were really interesting. Just imagine this fierce warrior woman being overly enthusiastic about pyramids and temples!

“SaSuu. Byzantium. Xi’an. The Grand Canyon, the Arch of Macedoin, the pyramids. All wondrous places that had stirred her, that had become her passion as she’d coped with a childhood of poverty, deprivation, and violence.”

We quickly learn that there are more to her than just that. The fact that she is quite paranoid could put us on the trail but the fact that she was at war not so long ago made me overlook this part of her, it could easily have been a part of her experience to feel that way constantly or a simple habits. If you don’t want to know why, I guess I should warn you to stop right there, but it’s revealed quite rapidly in the story and is actually the title so that’s not really a spoiler?? So, why is Sula so paranoid, especially when an old friend (cousin/best friend from school) contacts her to reconnect and meet on Earth? Well because Caroline Sula is not really Caroline Sula! As we learn soon enough in the novel, she actually is from another planet where she met the real Caroline Sula and befriended her. They looked almost alike and to escape her miserable life she decided to take possession of Caroline’s identity, and killed her in the process. All of this happened when they were around 17 years old, harsh! I thought there was a little Mad Men feel to this story because even though there is this matter of identity theft, or impersonation (WINK WINK), it’s not really the main plot.

Now that the war is over, Sula has to untie herself from her formation and weapon status. More importantly, she has to find who she is deep down beneath her disguise. Additionally to the plot explained in the description, this is a story about finding oneself, as you often find in literature. It’s really engaging and made me want to know even more about Sula and about the characters that are mentioned. There are not that much action scenes, this is not an action packed story, but I found myself absorbed by the mystery, the plot, what would happen to the characters and Sula’s train of thought.

“Sula decided that it was futile to try to fit her actions into anyone’s categories but her own.”

To add to how much I liked this world and why I definitely will read more about it: sexism is no more! Or so it seems? See the quote bellow! This part made me smile from ear to ear. To add some context, while on a tourist visit they stop in front of several statues of famous leaders of the ancient world (that is, the one we live in) and there is only one female among several men.

 “Goojie shivered in the cold. “Why is there only one female?” she asked, completely innocent of the complex, rather appalling answer that was then revealed to her. “Well, I’m glad we’re civilized now,” she said.”

So I definitely would recommend this novel. It’s not too long, I read it in an afternoon and is 131 pages on my Kobo e-reader, while it seems to be 256 pages for the paperback and kindle according to the infos on the publisher website. So if you’re looking for a new space opera to jump into and are not so sure about Dread Empire’s Fall, this novel is a good way to get to know the author, the world and the characters. It made me want to read the trilogy; but even if in the end I don’t like it as much as this short novel, I’m glad I got to read Impersonations!

(originally posted: 21st June 2016)

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