Empyrean, the third book in Jim Cronin’s Brin Archives series, invites readers into the middle of interstellar conflict for a page-turning space adventure with compelling characters.

Two massive empires, the Skae and the Gorvin, are locked in a struggle for control of a black hole. They have very different ideas of how this could be used, and this is where the world-building shines. Even without the first two novels to set things up, Cronin really makes readers believe in these two empires and their two viewpoints. The Skae and the Gorvin are very different, and on this, they’re completely opposed. Could this singularity provide beneficial and necessary power, or is it a danger to lives and homes? Both viewpoints sounds believable, and make sense with what Cronin has shown us at the beginning of the book about the Skae and the Gorvin. The discovery of the black hole is exciting, and will pull in scifi fans, but the ensuing galactic war seems inevitable. Our protagonists must work to find a solution, and the fate of both empires hangs in the balance.

These characters will be familiar to readers who’ve read Recusant and Hegira, Cronin’s previous novels in the Brin Archive series, but readers new to the trilogy will get to meet scientist Jontar Rocker, and the others. Characterization is quick and easy to grasp, even for newcomers to the series. Cronin is able to express characters’ personalities through natural-sounding dialogue. Even though the setting is in a distant, future galaxy, even though there is advanced technology and telepathic powers, the characters’ realistic conversation moves the story and expresses their relationships to one another.

The epic scale of the conflict and the exciting setting will pull readers into a space adventure story.  The two empires, once allies, have become enemies, and their war over the black hole affects everyone in the galaxy. Jontar Rocker and some of the Kolandi try to bring a peaceful resolution, which means learning more about the Skae, and their opposition to the Gorvin, and their history with the Brin. There’s good tension here, as readers discover the revelations about the Skae’s past  along with our protagonists.  The Skae’s history and their true motivations offer exciting twists, and there’s even more page-turning tension when readers wonder if this information can be used to stop the war.

As the third in a trilogy, with fictional places, people and technology, some of the world-building in Empyrean isn’t very accessible without reading the first two novels. Some sections, especially on the political machinations, were confusing, without the background of the first two novels. Fortunately, the compelling characters and the page-turning tension from the galactic conflict will pull new readers into the series. Creative, imaginative situations make this space adventure pop.

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