Saga of Seven Suns – Book List

This is an epic series fans of space opera must read. Kevin J. Anderson isn't my favourite writer, and he isn't necessarily one of the greatest writers. Nevertheless, he has a good eye for a story filled with science-fictional MacGuffins and political intrigue. Set in the far future, the Saga of Seven Suns concerns the resumption of an ancient feud between hydrogen-breathers, the hydrogues, and oxygen-breathing life.

I think I have read the first four books of the series, but that was a long time ago, and I don't remember much. I am re-reading the series as I can and reviewing the books along the way.


1. Hidden Empire

by Kevin J. Anderson

Hidden Empire cover image
Hardcover, 453 pages
Aspect, 2002

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

Replete with political intrigue, a powerful alien aggressor, and parables of human folly, The Saga of Seven Suns has everything a reader wants from an epic science fiction adventure. Kevin J. Anderson has created a vision of humanity's future both comfortable and unique. While adhering to many established tropes in space operas, including a handwaved FTL drive and form of instantaneous communication (sort of), Anderson has crafted interesting political entities and distinct cultures with often-conflicting agendas.

I first read Hidden Empire several years ago, but I lost track of the series after a couple of books, so now I'm re-reading them from the beginning. Some of the blurbs on the back of this edition compare Anderson to [author:Frank Herbert|58], but Hidden Empire is no Dune. (And any of the Dune books written by Kevin J. Anderson aren't technically Dune either, because they're actually Kevin J. Anderson books!) Anderson is certainly a capable storyteller, but he's not in the league of Frank Herbert, and he's only an average writer at best. Hidden Empire consists of more telling than showing than I'd like to see—i.e., Anderson's omniscient third-person narrator often relates what characters think or desire instead of showing us through actions and specific scenes. Nevertheless, the plot of Hidden Empire makes up for any deficiencies in its characters.

This time, the aliens aren't invading Earth. Instead, in igniting a gas giant into a star, humans accidentally decimated a settlement of an alien species known as the "hydrogues", who live in the mega-pressure depths of gas giants. Interpreting this as an act of war, the hydrogues retaliate with their superior technology. And this isn't the first time the hydrogues have lashed out against "rock-dwellers," as we learn from disparate discoveries by human archaeologists and an unfortunate Ildiran historian. Yet Anderson makes it clear that even if the hydrogues don't ultimately destroy humanity, the machinations of its various cultures during the war may be humanity's undoing.

The plot of Hidden Empire is simply delightful. Predictable at times? Sure. Occasionally trite? Of course. It's got a nice balance of action and introspection, with a touch of romance and the necessary tragedy to accompany it. There are almost too many characters, but for an "epic" space opera, this is forgivable. Some you dismiss almost immediately, or write off as villainous. Others will eventually die, if not in this book, then the next, or maybe the one after that. A couple remain dear to your heart—I've a soft spot for the spunky Roamer Tasia, and for the green priests Nira and Beneto as well. Chairman Basil Wenceslas is a necessary antagonist, although the Mage-Imperator seems rather cardboard at times (again, Anderson's weak point lies in characterization).

Anyone who reads science fiction, especially space operas, needs to give Hidden Empire a try.

2. A Forest of Stars

by Kevin J. Anderson

A Forest of Stars cover image
Hardcover, 464 pages
Aspect, 2003

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

In the sequel to Hidden Empire, Kevin J. Anderson offers us glimpses of the galaxy's past even as we look to its future. Dark secrets of the Ildirans,the hydrogues, and even the worldforest on Theroc are revealed throughout A Forest of Stars, and soon humanity realizes it isn't alone in this galactic conflict. That's really what the second book of the Saga of Seven Suns is about: ramping up the scope.

The natural question to ask would be: well, how can Anderson ramp up the scope of a novel that spans the galaxy and takes place from the viewpoint of several different characters? How can he broaden the scope of a novel that encompasses the machinations among and within various cultures of humanity and the stagnant Ildirans? At first it seems impossible, but Anderson has a trick up his sleeve: yes, the hydrogues aren't in fact new enemies, but old ones.

As alluded to by Sirix when he turns against the Colicoses, the hydrogues haven't arrived; they've returned. In the far past, the hydrogues were embroiled in a conflict with three other elemental races: the faeros, the wentals, and the verdani. It sounds a bit like science fantasy, because Anderson plays fast-and-loose with science here; this is definitely soft science fiction. But as a narrative device, it works, and the discovery that the hydrogue war is suddenly much bigger, and perhaps much more important, than humanity realized is the focal point of A Forest of Stars.

This book contains a fair amount of betrayal and hostility within various groups. King Peter, formerly Raymond Aguerra, finally decides he's tired of being a figurehead for Chairman Basil Wenceslas. This was probably one of my favourite plot lines in this book; Peter acts courageously and honourably and offers a great leadership counterpoint to the scheming Chairman. Similarly, Mage-Imperator Cyroc'h is dying, and he reveals to Prime Designate Jora'h the sordid secrets of the Ildiran empire: the truth about their history with the hydrogues, as well as the secret human-Ildiran breeding program going on at Dobro. Jora'h vows to put an end to this duplicity. Yet once he becomes Mage-Imperator, we're left with the unfortunate impression that he now sees the galaxy differently.…

To Anderson's credit, he manages to keep his massive cast of characters from becoming too disparate or confusing. There is a glossary at the end of the book to help identify characters, planets, etc., but I barely glanced at it. For a story of such "epic" scope, it's quite easy to follow; for the most part, it's enjoyable too. My only real complaints are that it lacks depth in its characters, most of whom are shallow or two-dimensional at best. I've mentioned this before about Anderson's writing, however, and I'm not going to belabour the point.