Advent Review #15: EVE: The Empyrean Age (Book Review)

I’ve long wanted to play EVE Online, a game that many friends over the years have recommended to me on various levels, but I’ve never been able to get around to it. The expansive scope of the game, the concept, the visuals, the mechanics, everything is very intriguing and compelling, and any time I come across something to do with EVE Online, I get a hankering to play the game. But sadly, no time for a game requiring as much investment in time and effort as EVE. That’s actually one of the reasons I stopped playing World of WarCraft a few years back, to my continuing regret since I still have a great amount of nostalgia for that game, which I try to get around by reading the books that are published, which is where EVE: The Empyrean Age comes in.

From a bit of googling I did a while back, EVE: The Empyrean Age by Tony Gonzales is a tie-in to the EVE Online expansion The Empyrean Age. In it, the writer covers the rise of the Caldari Providence Directorate, the return of the Minmitari Elders, the return of Jamyl Sarum to the Amarr Empire, the fall of CONCORD (in a way), and several other things besides. Since I know very little of the world of EVE Online, I was initially wrong-footed by the novel, but as the pages went by, I discovered a riveting tale of interstellar politics and wars and economics that really drew me in and instilled in me a fascination for all sorts of EVE lore, making it one of the best novels I’ve read this year, even though it wasn’t published in 2014.

EVE - The Empyrean Age

One of the basic concepts behind the narrative of EVE: The Empyrean Age is that of the empyreans, or capsuleers. These are people who have chosen immortality through cloning and genetic engineering, so that they live on long past the moment of their death. In the world of EVE, many of the highest-ranking officials, whether in the various governments or the militaries or private individuals, have gone for this technology, which allows them to wake up inside their CRU chambers a few moments after their death, with all their memories and personalities intact in their body. As a character remarks in the final pages of the novel, the current age is that of the empyreans, for they shall hold sway over all of New Eden.

Initially, I was confused by a lot of things that are happening, since we are kind of dropped in the middle of it all as a capsuleer named Falek Grange, a high-ranking noble of the Amarr Empire, is systematically murdered about a military vessel, alongwith all the different copies of his… clones elsewhere in New Eden. This sets in motion some really big events, as we begin to see how the web of politics all across New Eden begins to fracture. Falek Grange’s death is the first of these cracks as, on the other side of the known space, labour riots on a Caldari manufacturing world lead to massive changes in the government of the Caldari Republic and as in another corner the Minmitari Republic itself begins to fracture.

Suffice to say that Tony Gonzales has one hell of a task here, to cover all the different power-players of New Eden, whether individuals or institutions alike, and he does an admirable job in the end, stringing it all together towards an awesome and exciting conclusion that really has you on the edge of your seat. His pacing can be pretty brutal at times, but that is just as well since it reflects the events happening in New Eden, each of which segues into the other in a long chain of events that mark a major shift in the status quo of the known space.

Whether it is the struggles of the Caldari to redefine themselves with the specter of Gallentean supremacy hanging over their heads, or the deep divisions between the Amarrians and the Minmitari given that the former keep many of the latter enslaved on their home worlds, or the futile attempts of the CONCORD to keep the peace between all the power-blocs, Tony Gonzales has something wonderful here. The scope is indeed huge, given that we often go for a bird’s eye view for certain scenes, such as the humbling of the Minmitari Ambassador Keitan Yu in front of the CONCORD Assembly, and then are back looking at the big picture as events unfold on a massive scale, such as the start of the disastrous war between the Gallente Federation and the Caldari State. Each event as it happens is part of a larger tapestry and it all starts to make sense only in the final third of the novel. Tony uses the first two thirds of the novel to set up all his pieces and position them to initiate a domino effect later on, and the way he goes about it, with all the different characters and conspiracies and schemes and plans that he works in, it all is a masterstroke of writing.

I’m a huge fan of tie-in fiction, having been reading the “genre” for several years, almost two decades, and I often prefer tie-in fiction to original fiction since I understand it much more readily and can approach it that much more easily. Going into EVE: The Empyrean Age, I knew very little about the IP but the novel has made me realize that there is a great world out there waiting to be explored. Whether it is the character-building scenes as they all converse with one another or the big space battles or the many startling twists and revelations that happen, Tony is always in command, and always guiding the reader through the maelstrom of events.

Honestly, I feel that if Tony wasn’t so familiar with the world (he appears to be quite familiar with everything, which helps from the perspective of the reader since it helps the reader ease into the story at large), the novel wouldn’t have quite the same impact. Characters like Karin Midular, Falek Grange, Gear, Tibus Heth, Otro Gariushi, Xavier Black, Victor Eliage, Jamyl Sarum and others wouldn’t have had quite the same impact either and wouldn’t have felt as realistic as they end up being. That’s the beauty of it. And the thing is that with tie-in fiction, you already have a defined world with some understood, basic rules, and that creates a wonderful framework for the reader to wrap their head around and then get lost in. Which is what happened to me with EVE: The Empyrean Age.

One of the best novels I’ve read this year, and one that I recommend very, very highly.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Posted on December 15, 2014, in 2014 Reading Challenge, Book Reviews, Challenges, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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