Review: House of Shards, Walter Jon Williams

House of Shards is a science fiction crime comedy that teeters self-consciously on the edge of farce and has grand fun while doing so. In the universe of the novel, humanity has just broken away from the Khosali Empire. The novel states that

Khosali High Custom allows people, within certain well-defined limits, to steal for a living; and the societies of the Human Constellation, for lack of anything better after several thousand years of Khosali rule, follow High Custom.

and goes on to explain that Allowed Burglary is the result of damage control for a kleptomaniac Emperor, not of any particular societal principle. Though the two societies are beginning to diverge at the time of the novel, many Allowed Burglars are humans, including the protagonist of the book, Drake Maijstral, and his major rival, Geoff Fu George.

These two Allowed Burglars, plus their entourages of assistants, find themselves on the very small Silverside Station, a newly-opened resort bathed in the light of one star devouring another. Attending the opening are, among others, a number of potential Burglary targets; Lord Qlp, a large slug-like alien whose five brains make it all but incomprehensible to other species; and Kyoto Asperson, an interviewer who fancies herself a dramatist. The novel weaves a tangled network of rivalries, romances, and unlikely duos among these vivid characters, enlivened by the cultural clashes of the three species. The amusement level is also kept high by bits of clever prose, such as the description of a security chief named Sun (who finds the color blue restful) realizing that he's no match for the Allowed Burglars on his station:

Mr. Sun sat fidgeting in his cool blue heaven, possessed of a growing conviction that Lucifer had somehow got in amongst the angels and all PanDaemonium was going to break loose at any instant.

House of Shards is the thoroughly entertaining and stand-alone middle book about Drake Maijstral. I will be keeping an eye out for the other two, Crown Jewels and Rock of Ages, and would recommend that fans of caper novels do the same.

%T   House of Shards
%A   Williams, Walter Jon
%C   New York
%I   Tor
%D   1988
%G   0-812-55783-2
%P   309pp
%S   A Drake Maijstral Adventure
%V   Book Two
%O   paperback

Copyright July 23, 1999 by Kate Nepveu. Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written.

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