It begins with The Thief and the Last Battle, a misdirection from the opening chapter which lays the groundwork for what is to come. After two books of uphill setup in The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince, this is the coast downhill, gathering momentum and trying to maintain balance as layers of crystalline plot suddenly become an avalanche of tumbling event as Hannu Rajaniemi’s trilogy of Jean le Flambeur novels comes to an explosive conclusion.
Fleeing from the Earth which has been ravaged by Dragons, le Flambeur has lost his Oortian warrior companion Mieli and her ship Perhonen has been destroyed, but in his company is a rescued gogol of Matjek Chen, a copy of one of the Sobornost Founders as a four year old boy who already displays the skill, determination and conceptual reach of his adult self but with a child’s impatience and impetuous refusal to listen or obey.
His attempts to locate Mieli frustrated by deliberate corruption of the datafeeds he is using to track her escape pod, le Flambeur contacts Isidore Beautrelet in the Oubliette on the surface of Mars in hopes that the security of that moving city has been harder for the Sobornost to circumvent. Described as a hybrid between technology and an art installation, memories encrypted in the petals of flowers grown in mechanical footprints in the Martian sand, Isidore succeeds in accessing the unaltered data but, as is his nature, ignores considerations of safety to continue his investigation.
Even as le Flambeur once sought clues to the pieces of his own identity which he had concealed in the exomemory to protect them, so does a revisitation to a key moment first recounted in The Fractal Prince bring new insight as the memories of Owl Boy are relived from a new perspective through Isidore’s eyes, holding the key which allows him to unlock the meaning behind the Spike, the singularity which destroyed Jupiter, a realisation which he cannot be permitted to divulge.
The enormous complexity of the book can be challenging; there are no incidental characters or insignificant events and everyone has a tangled backstory, allegiances and motivations, obvious and hidden, to be kept in mind. To attempt to read it without having first read the two preceding volumes would not be recommended, but while that knowledge is necessary it does not fully prepare the reader as the template has again evolved from the mystery novel to something much wider; the casting aside of a book of detective stories from the deck of a ship into the receding wake is more than symbolic.
With Rajaniemi having played this game for three books he is now ready for bigger fish, an early reference to neuroadaptive literature echoing his own recent research interests, though other allusions abound, from Fitzgerald and Fleming to Lewis and Lovecraft, le Flambeur attempting to sell a Verne gun bullet to the Gun Club Zoku, associates of the Nemo and Robur Societies, who beneath the surface of Iapetus hold weapons capable of violating the very fabric of spacetime.
The recurrence in the book of one word is so frequent as to be unlikely to be accidental; “The universe is a game,” le Flambeur recounts to Founder Joséphine Pellegrini shortly before declaring “I’m tired of games,” deciding to rewrite the rules as he has so often done before. The master of bluff and deception, walking into every situation with not an ace but half a virtual deck up his sleeve in case he should need to reformulate his plan half way through, the flamboyant le Flambeur is incisive in deciphering the masks and motives of others, his expertise, as Matjek bluntly puts it, because “You know so much about lying.”
But when he must quite literally find himself if he is to access primary command of his own ship Leblanc, it is truth which le Flambeur needs, but with questions raised about the very nature of causality, information released probing subatomic particles found to be encrypted, spacetime itself as a quantum computer, the implication that the whole of reality as perceived by the flower thief and his associates may be a simulation is disquieting but whether everything experienced in his company is real or not, the immediacy and audacity of Rajaniemi’s storytelling is undeniable: “You grip the katana lightly, like a calligraphers brush, and prepare to write your haiku of death.”
With open war breaking out among the remaining factions across what is left of the solar system and le Flambeur gambling against impossibly stacked odds, the game is already against him, and who would be foolish enough to bet on a thief, quantum or otherwise?