BOOK REVIEW: The Praxis, by Walter Jon Williams

praxis.jpg

Series: Dread Empire’s Fall (#1)

Publisher: Earthlight

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 417

Publication Date: 2002

Verdict: 3/5

 

The last of the Shaa is dying, leaving an ancient empire without a leader. Amid the uncertainty, the species and factions brought together under the Shaa’s tyrannical reign look to their own devices, and draw their plans to establish a new order . . .

The last of my charity shop purchases from back in September, The Praxis is yet another book I went into essentially blind. Only later on did I realise that this is an author I’ve heard of before. Wlater Jon Williams has also written for Star Wars, contributing to the epic New Jedi Order series that came out around the same time as this original novel. New Jedi Order all blurs together in my memory at this point, so going into this book I still had no real idea of Williams’ style. What caught my attention immediately is the concept for The Praxis. An ancient empire crumbling? Well that’s one of my favourite tropes right there. The fact that humans were neither the most important members nor the enemies of this empire was a nice twist on the usual state of affairs. I find it hard to resist a space opera at the best of times, and when it comes to second-hand books, I’m rather weak-willed.

Unfortunately, The Praxis is less than I hoped it would be. The central premise is executed quite well, and the manner in which the Shaa have remained in power is a brilliant idea. The Praxis of the book’s title is essentially a philosophy enforced on the inhabitants of the Shaa’s empire, even the Shaa themselves. It creates absolute loyalty, and absolute peace. Moral implications aside, it creates a perfect society. I also like the way the Shaa pick and choose the best elements of each culture they absorb into their empire. From Earth, for example, the keep porcelain, because it doesn’t exist elsewhere. It’s a perfect example of conqueror and conquered people influencing one another, because colonisation is never a one-way affair. Culture always finds a way to bleed through.

It’s the writing itself that brought the book down for me. More specifically, it was the pacing. Despite telling of a time of chaos and rebellion, this book plods along at a glacial pace. The moments of action shine through and are incredibly engaging, but you have to sift through a lot of meetings to get to them. And that’s not the worst of it. Now this next complaint might be familiar of you’ve been following At Boundary’s Edge for a while. The Praxis is a prime example of why flashbacks don’t work for me. There are so many of them here, and they don’t add much to the book besides page count. They all centre on the same character, filling in her background and leading to a revelation that’s blindingly obvious. These flashbacks also occur all over the place, cutting through chapters like a knife, leaving the main story of The Praxis in tatters.

For all that it feels like a bundle of squandered opportunities, The Praxis does end with the promise of a strong series ahead. And it’s a series that Williams has continued to build over the past two decades. The universe is an interesting one, and if I saw another Williams book at a low price, I’d probably pick it up. But I’m in no rush to do so. I don’t regret the time I spent in the Dread Empire, but neither am I keen to go back for a second visit. And when a book can be summed up with a disinterested shrug, that says more than any full-length review could ever do.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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