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A Princess of the Aerie

Review by Mark L. Olson

A Princess of the Aerie

by John Barnes

Warner Aspect, 2003, $6.99, 319 pp

On the annoying side of the ledger, John Barnes has already turned out the sequel to The Duke of Uranium. Jak Jinnaka is back in school after his adventures in The Duke and is in trouble again since he’s bored. The Principal decides to send him on a free-lance diplomatic mission for better training. (The school is a college for spies and diplomats.)

Jak is back with his former girlfriend who is now crown-princess of Greenworld (Jak hadn’t been aware of that when they were together) who has Turned Bad.

Unfortunately, this also gives Barnes an opportunity to dwell on some nasty people for too long, a habit which in my opinion significantly mars a number of his books. In this case, Shef, Jak’s girlfriend and lover while they were in the equivalent of high school has turned into the despicable and degenerate Princess of Greenworld who uses Jak and many others in especially degrading ways.

Another aspect of the degradation is the mutual erosion of trust and honesty that seems to be developing as the series’ more serious theme. (I think the series is primarily meant as light entertainment along the same lines as the Caesar’s Bicycle trilogy.)

Everyone seems to either be betraying their friends and associates or to be caught in events which make it look like they are. Jak is loyal, but is the prey of a newscaster who has started to follow him around to get footage for nearly-fictional “reports” on his adventures. She shamelessly uses digital techniques to create fake interviews and manages to make Jak famous in a small way at the expense of his personal relationships with his friends.

I don’t know where Barnes is going with this, but I fear the worst.

The background to this universe is being fleshed out, of course. This is not altogether a good thing! Barnes has chosen to populate the Solar System with a huge variety of statelets, and has made most of them monarchies and other kinds of aristocratic thingies, having various characters justify this in expository lumps as somehow more natural to humanity. OK, I guess that’s permissible. But then the book revolves around the near-universal tendency of aristocrats and aristocracies to lose themselves in debauchery, degeneracy and the viscous pursuit of pleasure. He can’t have it both ways!

The series still retains enough interest that I’ll continue reading it, but I’m not as enthusiastic as I was after reading the first volume.