Lady of Mazes
by Karl Schroeder
Tor, 2005, ISBN 0-765-31219-0
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
Lady of Mazes is very loosely connected to Schroeder's earlier novel, Ventus, but the story is completely independent. Not having read the earlier book will not affect this one.
Livia Kodaly lives in a space-based habitat, in a culture that to some degree neighbors and to some degree overlaps in physical territory with other cultures that are separated from each other by software horizons that prevent members of one culture from using or even perceiving the technology and artifacts appropriate to other cultures. Livia herself is part of a small group that can perceive and interact with other culture, and who act as cultural ambassadors and take on the task of deciding when declining cultures have been sufficiently abandoned that their resources can be reallocated to thriving existing or new cultures. This is a contentious enough task that Livia's life is hardly stress-free even before Qiingi, a man from a more nature-oriented neighboring/overlapping culture tells her that the Ancestorsthe people Livia's culture calls the Foundershave returned and are behaving very strangely. In short order the horizons separating the many cultures of the habitat are under full-scale attack and falling rapidly, while Livia, Qiingi, and Aaron, an old friend of Livia's, are fleeing for their lives, knowing nothing about their enemy except that it's apparently called 3340, and it hates the horizons that let the cultures maintain themselves intact.
Up to this point, they at least know what the rules are supposed to be. Once they make a truly insane escape from the habitat and their unlikely vehicle gets picked up, things get much stranger. Livia, her friends, and the people they meet in what, from their perspective, might as well be Wonderland, all have to completely rewrite the way they think the world works, and why. The question of who or what among the contending parties might be the bad guy, if there is one, becomes amazingly, and amazingly satisfyingly, confused. After the first third of the book, there's really nothing that can be said about it that wouldn't simultaneously be both a spoiler, and completely misleading.