The Middle Kingdom, the third volume in David Wingrove's re-imagined epic Chung Kuo series see's the Earth covered in continent spanning, mile high city of Ice; ruled by the seven T’ang, the Kings of China.
A century of peace is shattered when the Minister of the Edict is assassinated and the seven rulers struggle to maintain equilibrium. Meanwhile those rebels who perpetrated the killing are trying to bring about "change" but little do they know who is really behind this event, an event that could lead to war on a scale not seen in a century.
Last year the first novel in this re-imagined series Son of Heaven won the SFBook of the year award and I was overwhelmed by this dystopian vision of a China ruled future Earth that the author presented. Since then we've reviewed the equally impressive Daylight on Iron Mountain which managed to expand of this vision and add to the rich future society that is Chung Kuo. Set far into the future, The Middle Kingdom is just as absorbing and manages to build on this epic story while also showing us how disturbing, violent and in many ways horrific a totalitarian regime can be.
The writing is, as ever, quite exceptional which manages to describe this grand vision of a world encased in plastic ice magnificently. Elegant with an almost poetic edge the prose really is very easy on the eye. I love how the author manages to blend an almost medieval, dynastic China with a plausible, realistic future - the research that must have gone into this novel is just monumental. We witness this sometime harsh story through the eyes of a number of characters and the transition from one to another is handled very well, at no point did I feel lost or disorientated.
The story does however require your undivided attention to really do it justice, it's a complex web of intrigue and rebellion that paints the protagonists in various, subtle shades - woven around a plot that gets the old grey matter ticking. There are no real good or bad guys here, just people playing for power or playing for survival. The story does take a little time to really get going however the scene building is enjoyable in its own right and the tension does slowly build as the novel progresses. You really do get a sense of the grand here, helped by a fairly large cast, including descendants of the characters in the first two books (nice touch by the way). Its this vast city of ice that comes across as the main character in the novel, the plot plays through a number of viewpoints however the switches in perspective are handled well.
The Middle Kingdom is a powerful vision of a wonderfully rich dystopia that speaks of ancient culture and modern miracles, wrapped in a world spanning, ruthless race that has crushed everything under it's vast might. You've got to admire the author for creating something on such an epic scale, very few series come close.
Continuing to impress, Chung Kuo is fast becoming a contender for the dictionary definition of "epic", grand in scope and powerful in vision with a wonderfully rich future Chinese culture, magnificent.
Written by Antony, 26 September 2012.