Unexpectedly, I finished one more book before the new year: The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard. I didn’t think I’d finish this one so soon, but a few things lined up:
- Time off for the holidays
- I got sucked into the story far more than I expected
- I hit a point in No Man’s Sky that’s 90% loading screens and maps, so I fell into a pattern of reading while the loading screens loaded*
I had no idea what to expect, going into this one. It’s one of r/cozyfantasy’s regular recommendations — probably on the top ten — and all I knew was “story about a bureaucrat who wants to make the world a better place.”
Yep. It’s that. It’s also about colonialism/imperialism, cultural assimilation, and good governance, has excellent characterization, and worldbuilds without tiresomely explaining Magic Systems(tm) at the audience.
It’s also not cozy, in my opinion. I admit, I have developed a fairly restrictive impression of “cozy” from the community: “takes place in a cottage in the forest, there’s a lot of tea, there are no world-destroying stakes, and NO BAD OR CHALLENGING EMOTIONS EVER, OR HEADS WILL ROLL.” I don’t mean this to be denigrating. Cozy mystery has a long and successful history. It’s just that, but with magic. Magic, She Wrote.
There are a lot of emotions in this story, despite/because of the fact that it’s about an outwardly starchy bureaucrat. Few of the emotions are fluffy or easy. And though the day-to-day focus of the story is on one character and most of the story takes place in two general locations, it very much has ramifications about the larger story-world. That’s… a big part of the point. Making the world a better place.
So I’m kind of surprised that this community latched onto this book, but I am very glad they did, because I rabidly enjoyed it. I finished the first book on Christmas Day and started the second shortly after. (I did not figure out the twist at the beginning of the second book until… maybe 75% of the way through the first? This is why I don’t read mysteries)
There is a long stretch that basically boils down to Kip Tells Off Some Naysayer, Everybody Clapped, which…. eh, but it’s capped off with a set piece that I absolutely loved at the end, so it didn’t break the book for me.
Anyway, consider this a recommendation.
(NMS spoilers follow)
* Loading screens and maps in NMS: Not the game’s fault. I’m just a dunce. When the point in the story came to jump into a portal and finish the plot, I decided to finish off the Atlas Seed sidequest I was working on. When I finished that, I found myself with no clue whatsoever how to find a portal, some 700,000 light-years away from the center of the galaxy where the last scenes will trigger. (The plot even taught me how to find a portal, I think. I have all the glyphs. I just… don’t know how to find a portal, and don’t particularly want to look it up now that I’ve gotten into a groove.)
So… having spent my life playing slow, grindy RPGs, I shrugged, hopped in my freighter, and started to path toward the center of the galaxy the slow way. Maybe 100 light-years at a time, one system at a time, connecting to the markets in each one to buy low and sell high on some widgets. Scanned most of the planets, hopped out to check out some interesting ones, etc.
Eventually, after buying and selling my way to more units than I knew how to spend**, I realized that my starship would get me there marginally faster and started to do that instead. …Marginally. So I started pathing toward black holes and only stopped to scrounge up the components for more warp fuel. In practice, this means “choose destination, loading screen, choose destination, loading screen, fly toward black hole, longer loading screen, choose destination, loading screen, maybe shoot some asteroids for a break, repeat repeat repeat.”
So I just read during all the loading screens. Real Gamers(tm) would have breakdowns. I find it rather restful. I still stop sometimes to shop, collect fuel components, and check out some interesting planets. I’m now just under 100,000 light-years to the center. I hope this works.
** 400 million. Can’t seem to find a freighter better than the one I have right now, which is just B-rank with seemingly average stats. I’ve hired a bunch of frigates with different specialties, including one living one, which is neat. Fallen into buying a new exosuit slot every time I stop at a station rather than chasing down drop pods, because time has become more valuable than money. Upgraded my starship even though it’s not particularly good, just because I had money burning a hole in my pocket. (It’s fine, it’s a grasshopper-shaped explorer with enough cargo space to suffice) I have two fairly good multitools, one set up for mining, the other for combat. I truly don’t know what the hell else to spend units on. Buying the components for fuel at stations helps save some time, but not all of it, since some of them don’t seem to be on the market.
Result: I stopped wheeler-dealing and just started flying.
No, I don’t want advice on how to minmax, thank you. I rather enjoy reading during loading screens, as it turns out. We all play differently.