Retro Review: A Circus Of Hells by Poul Anderson

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Ensign Flandry, the first of the character of Dominic Flandry, and I was so impressed with the space opera that I found myself eagerly awaiting the second book. Been actually rereleased these books as 3-book omnibuses in a seven volume set a few years back, so I was able to pick up the entire series relatively inexpensively.

A Circus of Hells takes a drastically different tone than Ensign Flandry. Where Anderson set up the Imperium and the human structure against this giant Merisan structure as an epic in the first, this is much more localized. It also takes much more of a “James Bond In Space” feel. Whereas Ensign Flandry surprised me when he was suave with the ladies, in this one he is unabashedly out to get some action.

It starts out where he’s assigned on a backwater planet, and he gets pulled into some mob scheme to investigate the planet Wayland, completely off the radar to see if there’s mining potential for profit. A woman, Djana, is assigned with him. She’s a hooker, but a very noble one with a passion for Jesus. It’s an odd character, but she works.

They go together, get shot down on the planet which they find is infested by robots. It takes a 180 as they go and get captured by Mersians on another planet where there is intelligent life that some only awaken during certain climates of the year–a very interesting concept. Anderson likes to explore the hot/cold environmental aspects of what makes civilization tick, like he did in Fire Time, and that theme is developing here.

I gloss over Wayland because though he presents and interesting planet there, he drops the thread for the Mersian plot. I found the development of the new world after Wayland a little boring for awhile, it takes a bit to get jump started as if it’s a completely separate story. However once Flandry forms his escape plan, it starts to get interesting again.

The ending is really interesting, if unfulfilling. Djana gets left in the cold to some degree, and we see a flaw in Flandry’s character, which he blames on the job, but it’s a little more than that. It made me lose my liking for Flandry a bit, but, if he’s going to be a James Bond, he can’t be tied down.

Overall, I liked it, but enjoyed it a lot less than Ensign Flandry.  It’s a solid book, and it’s actually standalone so if it sounds more interesting to you, you can actually start here without any trouble. There’s no much reference to the first book beyond in passing.

It’s also very short. So it’s a quick read, despite the slowed pace when it shifts gears in the middle.

8/10

If you like Poul Anderson’s space opera, or my thoughts on it, you’ll probably like The Stars Entwined. It’s got a spy with a bit better of a moral compass when it comes to women. Check it out here.

 

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