Part of the fun of Ventus lies in discovering how Schroeder’s unusual milieu arose, so I will try to avoid spoilers (I didn’t read the book jacket flap before I started reading, and I’m glad). But it’s very quickly obvious that Ventus concerns a collision between two societies — one feudal and pre-industrial, one extremely high-tech. In the earlier chapters, the juxtapositions of tone are so sharp that it almost feels like reading a fantasy novel and a science fiction novel spliced together. Schroeder draws the disparate threads together skillfully, with nuanced descriptive shifts as the feudal folks acclimatize themselves to the advanced technology. There’s a refreshing lack of either glorifying or condescending to the people on either side of the technological divide.
Ventus‘ action-packed plot certainly held my attention, but I found it less than completely successful (it’s Schroeder’s first novel, so the flaws are certainly forgivable). Several minor things bugged me. Schroeder very unambiguously establishes some concrete religious symbolism, but doesn’t really do anything with it (unless he was just sowing seeds for a sequel…). The limitations under which the high-tech society operates didn’t feel internally consistent; at times the reasons for “why can they do that, but not do this?” seemed driven more by plot expediency than anything else. When the Big Bad arrives, it’s disappointingly cartoonish. The resolution is thematically satisfying but awkwardly and hurriedly reached; the pacing in the book’s final third is choppy (I often felt that Schroeder was juggling just a few too many balls).
Schroeder is clearly more concerned with his characters’ emotional lives than many hard SF writers, but his limited omniscient third-person viewpoint kept them at some remove. Nonetheless, “Mad Queen Galas,” the deposed ruler of one of the feudal states, is a remarkably vivid creation.
needs more demons? Just a few. I’ll read more Schroeder for sure.