Cole, Allan & Chris Bunch. The Court of a Thousand Suns.

NY: Ballantine, 1985.

This is the third volume in the ongoing military career of Sten (no first name) in the service of the Eternal Emperor in the 40th Century. The first two volumes, which began with young Sten’s successful quest for revenge and his early career in the Guard and then in the super-secret Mantis Corps, were pretty good action/adventure space opera, but this effort is considerably weaker.

Sten, now a Guard captain, is the new commander of the Ghurka unit that comprises the Emperor’s closest bodyguard, and he’s feeling the pressure of the responsibility. Then a terrorist/ freedom fighter from a far corner of the empire is blown up in a dockside eatery, together with the Emperor’s representative with whom he was meeting, with a view to negotiations and a lessening of tensions. Who would want to sabotage the meeting? There are plenty of candidates and Sten is called in to investigate, which he does in conjunction with a sexy police lieutenant and with the help of Sergeant-Major Alex Kilgour, a heavyworlder with a thick Gaelic brogue whom we met in the second volume.

All of which is fine, except that the authors keep going off on various tangents which don’t really advance the story. This suggests that when they discovered that the core plot wasn’t going to produce enough pages, they got busy padding things out. The result is periods of frenzied motion, frequently bloody, separated by stretches of rather listless verbiage. There are several more volumes to this series, but I’ll have to decide whether it’s likely to be worthwhile chasing down the others.


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