A Princess of the Aerie (2003)

While it opens a bit like the first novel, all of the fluff is gone (well, not completely) and Barnes serves an interesting dish. In the first novel there was a bright, young lad, going on an adventure to save his girlfriend, who also was a princess of one of the kingdoms of the Aerie. The Aerie, like the Hive from where the hero originates, is a big artificial habitat in space. The future Barnes has created has some differences to our present, especially the return of monarchies, and this times it’s treated a bit more serious than the first time.

You remember growing apart from childhood or school friends, wondering later what you ever saw in someone, or why you hadn’t realized his real nature. Well, thankfully most of us have the luck to have been only friends to fools, not monsters. Which is what actually happens to Jak’s old flame, the princess of the Aerie. Seemingly she has developed a taste for absolute control and humans are only something to be manipulated or discarded. Still thinking her the lovely girl he knew from school, Jak enters her domain and there things begin to heat up.

In the hands of a lesser writer this could have easily turned out to be extremely hackneyed, but Barnes’s makes the transition from nice girlfriend to evil princess completely believable. What I found more illogically was the attitude toward some of Jak’s actions in the later part of the novel. Barnes’s tries to set him up to be a bit like a Jack Constantine bastard, but none of his actions seems actually that spiteful to me. Another problem I had was, that while the character-driven first half of the book was excellent, the plot about Mercury in the second half was less interesting. Still, overall I liked it.