The Sunless Countries
What do you do when you've created an open-ended universe of unmatched richness and potential? You keep exploring it! I'm very far from exhausting the possibilities of my world Virga, and here's The Sunless Countries to prove it. This novel is connected to the previous three in the series, but doesn't require that you've read them. It introduces new characters in a new setting while retaining enough links to the other books for fans of those stories. It really is all one grand epic tale, but I've tried to keep the action local in each book, and that's definitely the case here.
Meet Leal Hieronyma Maspeth. She's a history tutor at the University of Sere, in the nation of Abyss. Leal's a curious mixture of discipline and unbridled imagination: she works hard to get ahead in her cut-throat academic world, but nonetheless dreams of being swept away by the dashing sun lighter, Hayden Griffin, who has recently come to Sere to build a new sun for some other country.
As events conspire, she will end up meeting Griffin, but nothing is like she imagined it would be. In particular, she never dreamt that something ancient and terrible might awaken in the darkness beyond Sere's streetlights--perhaps a fabled worldwasp, come to wreack vengeance on humanity for some long-forgotten slight. Nor could she have anticipated that, in Abyss's current anti-intellectual backlash, she would end up being the only person who even knows what a worldwasp is, much less how to deal with it...
Reviews and Reactions
Publisher's weekly had this to say about The Sunless Countries:
The inventive and solidly enjoyable fourth novel set in the bubble world of Virga (after 2008's Pirate Sun) takes place far from the artificial suns that light the central regions. As entire towns fall victim to a mysterious threat, perhaps from "outside," a religious movement begins insisting that the world is eternal, not created. The Eternists confiscate books, censor the news and force through a referendum subjecting science to popular vote, while sun lighter Hayden Griffin, familiar from previous books, teams up with local historian Leal to investigate the attacks. They find an expedition killed by rain, meet up with groups officially deemed "mythical" and fend off political threats and outside forces that aren't what they seem. Schroeder paints his unique world with deft touches while keeping the story moving briskly. (Aug.)
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io9 weighed in with a balanced and thorough review that concluded this way:
The Sunless Countries is a rollicking good read. It's fun, bookish, and full of insane air battles that take place in a world without land. And the political thought experiments are as good as Schroeder's overarching scientific thought experiment about what it would be like to live in a world where you can have what amounts to a space battle using Newtonian physics.
SFSite said, "Virga, and now the universe that surrounds it, are realms ripe with ideas and adventure, and should continue to make repeated visits worthwhile for both the author and his readers."
Listen to the Audiobook Version
The Sunless Countries is available in audiobook format too; just head over to itunes and you can download it straight into your phone; or visit audible.com for a version you can load into mp3 players, Android phones etc.