If Bryan Thomas Schmidt‘s ‘The Worker Prince’ was Moses in space, than ‘The Returning’ contains the seeds of a new Exodus – blending the background of the original story seamlessly into the sequel. Readers may pick up the thread of the story quickly – whether or not they have read the first book.
For decades, the workers had lived on Vertullis as the Boralians’ slaves before winning their freedom. Now that they have become fully fledged citizens of the Borallian Empire, the Vertullians bristle against the prejudice and resentment of their former masters. But the murder of someone mistaken for a former worker shows all is not well in the Empire. The friction only increases when the Vertullian workers ask for a new religious holiday – The Returning, a celebration for a religion the Boralians do not share. Taking advantage of rising tensions, the deposed Lord Xalivar returns with Davi’s old enemies – to take back the empire and exact their revenge. Amid this turmoil, Davi – the worker-born Prince and adopted son of the Boralian princess – attempts to fulfill his duties to the Empire, to his worker family, and to Tela – the woman he loves.
The story opens with the murder of a Vertullian and the drama and intrigue swell with each page. Civil war looms; battles are fought; major characters die, and loyalties are divided. The prejudices between the races and classes reveal the fears blossoming in this epic culture clash.
While fans of ‘The Worker Prince’ will follow the same characters they loved in the first book, the characters in ‘The Returning’ are more fully developed. Good guys make mistakes. Bad guys aren’t always bad, and we’re even allowed to sympathize with them. Bordox, a murderous enemy of Davi, worries about his father. Villainous characters take pride in their work, convinced in the righteousness of their cause. Some are not even terrible people; they’ve simply chosen the wrong side. By providing the antagonists with real motivations and vulnerabilities, we empathize with some of their pains and tribulations – wishing them happiness, if not victory.
The female characters varied throughout the story. Some were weak, while others held positions of power and authority. Some were emotional, others were more stoic in the face of adversity. Overall, the women of this society were as different as in any other.
However, I disliked the way Tela, Davi’s fiance, was portrayed. Women are in positions of power throughout the Empire as pilots, politicians, and even some homemakers, but many times Tela is overly emotional and unsympathetic. She fought beside Davi as a fellow pilot, and understandably resents Davi’s desire to protect her. They had faced the same conflicts, faced similar dangers, so she wants to be seen as an equal. Yet, she flies into rages over the slightest offense and acts against orders when her emotions dictate. I found her attitude abrasive, though later in the story her position seemed more justified.
The story is less straight forward than the previous one; more twists and turns, with a few red herrings thrown in. Minor characters are shown in more detail. Motivations are revealed in greater depth. Everything is magnified and enhanced. Though ‘The Returning’ is a sequel, readers should have no trouble diving into the series from this point. ‘The Returning’ explores more than just the addition of a new holiday. It has a strong and dynamic plot, engaging characters, intrigue, and non-stop action. I heartily recommend it to science fiction fans with a taste for epic stories. You won’t be disappointed.