Ada Palmer’s fiction gets a lot of attention for its voice and ideas, but I think her greatest strength is actually characterization. The Will to Battle features a large ensemble cast and somehow manages to give all the characters devastating and/or moving moments. Structure-wise it’s a bit off (suddenly a lot of things happen in the last quarter that are not resolved) and the engagement with Hobbes simply doesn’t work, but what do I care when I can wallow in characterization?
Furthermore (and this extends the comparison with Hugo I made in my review of Seven Surrenders), her characters, while all in conflict with one another, are mostly of an elevated, well, character. The few base ones stick out, and undoubtedly have a role to play as the true villains of the story (though I wish Perry/Kraye would just GO AWAY ALREADY, he’s no fun to read about). This is made explicit when Mycroft, the narrator (more passive than usual in this book) confronts Thisbe, the woman with whom he raised Bridger. There’s no love lost between them, however, and Mycroft says of her family members, “…Sniper’s a noble creature, and Propero’s a noble creature. They’re all noble creatures, Thisbe, except you, you’re a….You’re a tick…..A tick, and you feed, and you bloat, and you crawl, and you think it makes you something poetic and exciting, like a vampire, and you’re so wrong.”
They’re all murderers, Mycroft, Prospero, Sniper, and Thisbe, so the difference isn’t in their deeds but in their–there’s the word again–character, their position on the scale of nobility to baseness. Their motives, and their acceptance of consequences. It reminds me, as I said, of Victor Hugo’s novels, where one must never confuse a Javert with a Thenardier, however much they’re both antagonists.
Aside from all that, there’s also some great humor in this book. Achilles, or a version of him, features in this book, and one of the characters has an obvious crush on him. Thus the following bon mot: “‘I know my sister broke your heart, and a rebound is natural, but Achilles? Really? There is such a thing as asking for it!’ Death in the guise of MASON blushed.”
I don’t know that this review will convince anyone to read the book–at this point in the series, either you’re thoroughly enjoying yourself or you’re off the hype train. There’s only one book left to go, and I hope it resolves some of the mysteries of this one. Moreover, I can’t wait to read it and immerse myself once more in the world of these fascinating people.