-Spoilers for The Stars Now Unclaimed and A Chain Across The Dawn–
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Series: The Universe After (#3)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 20/08/2020
Esa and Jane are on a mission: To find a way to stop the Cyn, the energy-based aliens currently wreaking havoc across the Galaxy. Together with a small group of Justified, they follow a lead that will take them to answers they could never have imagined . . .
Just to get one thing out of the way first. I spent a lot of this book wondering how Williams was going to wrap up his story with the pages left. It wasn’t until the very end that I found this is not the final act in a trilogy, and that there is at least one more book to come. That’ll teach me to do my research, I guess. While this was a surprise to me, it was the best possible surprise, beause it means that there are still Justified stories still to be told, and I am going to devour every one I come across.
Picking up shortly after the events of A Chain Across the Dawn, The Firmament of Flame delivers more of the delicious popcorn science fiction that made me fall in love with this series. It’s got aliens, AI, superpowers, more than one apocalypse, mystery, romance, humour, and above all else, action. We start off dropped right in the middle of a shoot-out, and the pace rarely relents from then until the final page. The handful of slower moments provide ample breathing space for us to get to know the characters a little better before they are whisked off into another life or death mission.
Like all good series, The Universe After has grown more intricate as it goes on. In this third book we get answers to some of the many mysteries Williams set up in earlier books. Of course, there are more questions to accompany them. The biggest one being: How can they get out of this alive? Crucially, all the answers make sense, never feeling forced, and do actually enlighten the reader rather than confusing them. You’ll find plot twists here, for sure, but never for the sake of having one. Everything here is earned, and the pay-off is often explosive. Sometimes literally.
One of the most impressive things about Williams’ writing is the ease with which he balances humour with drama. our heroes her exchange as many quips as a Marvel superhero, often in the most extreme of circumstances. But at the end of the day, they still feel like fully-rounded personalities and not caricatures. Amid all the jokes and wit, there is always time for a serious conversation between grown-ups. And while we’re talking about quips, I’d like to say that Williams has some of the best dialogue on the written page. It’s incredibly easy to imagine his lines being spoken by real people, which is the goal all dialogue should aspire to.
If you’re not tuned into one of the most fun space operas out there, then start with The Stars Now Unclaimed. If you’re a returning reader, you won’t be disappointed by this third volume in the epic and explosion-filled series.