Exordium picks up shortly after the first book left off. Our heroes are busy turning their swords into plowshares, spreading out from their fortified city into the surrounding countryside. There’s some discussion of the other cities scattered across the world, which will need to be reclaimed from nature and the scattered remnants of the Horde, the antagonists of the previous book . We do get to see a bit more of the world, as characters patrol and scout across it, and there are tantalising hints of the society which existed before littered through the wreckage.
That said, the larger focus of the book is on the extra-planetary colonies – worlds settled before the outbreak of the Horde, overwhelmed and silent for millennia. The plan to reclaim some of these is ambitious and plausible, especially as some of the colonies were effectively classified research laboratories. For a fledgling civilisation, concerned with the need for genetic diversity and concerned that horde remnants might surface on other worlds, the need to obtain and protect that sort of technology makes a great plot driver.
We do see some of the colonies, though they don’t feel too different from the home world – at least at a macro level. There are small differences, which the author manages to layer in subtly. The big difference is the larger focus on shipboard life – as several crews work together in an effort to retake the colony worlds. The ships are wonderfully described – elegant pieces of focused, brutal machinery, with a seemingly indomitable set of weaponry and, in at least one case, some efficient and charming AI. The tech has been well thought out, and seems plausible and consistent, and the environment of the ship is a suitable mix of camaraderie and claustrophobia. There’s all sorts of environments available, at any rate – from the aforementioned ship corridors, through to subterranean cave systems with sweeping, cathedral-like entrances. The text brings them all to life rather effectively.
The characters were a bit thin in the first novel, so it’s nice to see some of them being built up a bit here. The sprawling cast has been trimmed back a bit, and it feels like there’s a tighter narrative focus on some key people, which works well. Some of the inner monologues are especially informative – watching a pleasantly awkward romance bloom, for example, tells us a little about the captain of one of the ships – and seeing the commander of a special forces team (and his men) visit the widow of another member is a beautifully crafted emotional moment. There’s a theme running through the text about how we deal with death – with cowardice, with acceptance, with struggle – and the different approaches of the characters are quite revealing about them. I still think there’s work to do here – some of the less heroic characters seem to lack any redeeming qualities at all! – but there are layers being built on the personalities in play, and that’s great to see.
The plot – no spoilers, as ever. Weston has always been good at generating suspense, and writing some cracking action scenes, and that talent is on full display here. From the creeping stealth of a starship infiltration, somewhat reminiscent of Das Boot, to subterranean infantry combat, all blood and iron, the narrative delivers. . The pacing is absolutely spot on – slowly building tension, laced through with character building moments, and a slowly ramping up series of action set-pieces. There’s a lot going on here, and the narrative rattles along, grabbing hold and not letting go.
In the end, I think Exordium of Tears is a worthy successor to The Ix. It has some genuinely interesting world building, some plausible, likable characters in whom the reader can invest, and a narrative that absolutely crackles. If you’re looking for military sci-fi with solid credentials, then this series is definitely worth exploring – and one you’ve read The Ix, Exordium of Tears is a worthy sequel.