cover image The Dragon’s Nine Sons: A Novel of the Celestial Empire

The Dragon’s Nine Sons: A Novel of the Celestial Empire

Chris Roberson, . . Solaris, $7.99 (429pp) ISBN 978-1-84416-524-7

Roberson’s latest (after Set the Seas on Fire ) takes a standard Dirty Dozen plot that contrasts awkwardly with its ornate Chinese vs. Aztec interplanetary milieu. Two of the Dragon Empire’s dissident officers, space captain Zhuan Jie and troop commander (or “bannerman”) Yao Guanzhong, are tapped to infiltrate and destroy an enemy asteroid base. But before they can blow up the rock, they must first master their squadron of outcasts and improvise the rescue of dozens of prisoners marked for blood sacrifice. Cogently choreographed action and vividly drawn opposing cultures are intriguing (for instance, Mexica spacecraft are hardwired to work only when primed with human blood) but Roberson’s subtly distant tone, heavy-handed foreshadowing and narrow focus leave readers struggling to properly grasp the larger conflict. Tight, fully resolved character arcs leave few direct openings for the epic series the book supposedly begins. There’s potential here, but little polish and less context. (Feb.)