NESFA Members' Reviews

The Phoenix Exultant

Or, Dispossessed in Utopia

Book Two of The Golden Age

by John C. Wright

Tor, 2003

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

Phaethon is now an exile and an outcast, and only just barely manages to make his way to the one place on Earth where exiles and outcasts are tolerated, the city of Talaimannar. The ruling personality there, the cerebelline Old-Woman-of-the-Sea, of the Oceanic Environmental Protectorate, has her own problems with the College of Hortators but is too critical to the functionality of the planet for the Hortators to take any action against her. Amongst a generally unattractive collection of utter outcasts (even among exiles, there are classes: some have long but finite terms and will regain their real lives in time, while others, like Phaethon, are permanently banned and will die within a few centuries at the most), he begins to learn how to function without the most basic amenities of human life, without even the ability to know whether the person he's talking to is telling the truth, or run a proper examination and integration of his own conscious and subconscious mind. Amid all these handicaps, he soon discovers that his enemies, the enemies he suspects are making war not just on him but on the entire Oecumene, are still after him. And then he discovers that he be worse off.

We and Phaethon get a look at the underbelly of the Golden Oecumene, as Phaethon attempts to deal with the only people who can talk to him and do business with him--his fellow exiles. Understandably somewhat disenchanted with the College of Hortators when he arrives in the exile city of Talaimannar, he quickly discovers why the Hortators, or something like them, are necessary to the survival of the Oecumene. We also learn more about the motivations and goals of the Sophotechs, and more about who Phaethon's enemies really are, and what they might be up to.

This is an excellent second volume, fully worthy of the first. The third and final book will be The Golden Transcendence.

NESFA homepage | Review Index | More reviews by Elisabeth Carey