In the Courts of the Crimson Kings
by S.M. Stirling
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765314895
Date: 18 March 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
On Mars, the U.S. Aerospace Force assigns archaeologist Jeremy Wainman to explore the recently found lost city of Rema-Dza. To earthling Jeremy, this assignment is his ultimate dream come true as he always wanted to go to Mars to look at the ancient ruins and long dead cites of the deep Beyond. Now he has that chance with this project. Martian native and mercenary Teyud za-Zhalt is hired to guide and protect Jeremy on his quest to learn what the ancient monarchs hid when they vanished. However, Jeremy revises his dream when he meets Teyud because he falls in love with her. He also realizes who his guide is: Teyud is the lost heir to the long ago vanished Crimson Dynasty that once dominated the Red Planet.
Teyud finds herself shockingly attracted to the earth scientist. When they uncover a nefarious plot to steal the Ruby Throne and much more, they both know they must prevent that from happening. Before they can achieve their objective, spaceships and other mercenaries attack them. On the run with their lives threatened at every step, Teyud and Jeremy know they must somehow find the missing invisible crown of the first emperor in order for the rightful heir, Teyud, to sit on the throne of the Emperor Tollamune.
Moving millions of miles from Venus (see The Sky People) to Mars as the sun shines, S.M. Stirling continues his exploration of what the ancients left behind in our solar system, which reveres the Mars of Ray Bradbury. The storyline is faster than the speed of light as the action never slows down while exploring earthling-Martian relationships except for some acute satirizing. Mr. Stirling especially targets scientists making assumptions that seem an absolute natural law without supporting data, inflexible military leaders fighting the last war again (only this time they shifted planets not just countries), and politicians who claim they care what the people want except when the facts interfere with their customized decisions. These sardonic subplots are amusing as they hit their intended bulls-eyes, but also intrude on the prime storyline.
Jeremy is a delightful protagonist who starts off as if he got his cake and ate it too because he is euphoric with his assignment. However, meeting Teyud and the subsequent flight for their lives get him to reassess his life goal. He now wants his beloved sitting on the throne she deserves -- in a sense, he matures. Teyud is much more complex; initially she seems like a thug, but she quickly shows she is intelligent, charming, and very competent -- she is the only reason they even have a chance to flee. Whereas the earthman becomes increasingly pragmatic, leaving his dreams behind, the Martian becomes increasingly dreamy, thinking she might actually sit on the throne of her DNA ancestors. Her mercenary skills remind her that lingering in a fantasy or a kiss can prove deadly; survival comes first.