The New Order (The Elementia Chronicles #2), by Sean Fay Wolfe
In the acknowledgements section to this book, the author praises his publisher for taking a chance on publishing his fan fiction series, of which this is the second volume. The thing is, this book is more than merely fan fiction, while being firmly a genre work that is aware of the conventions of the genre and also blessed with a gentle sense of irony. There is even a beautiful meta moment towards the end of the novel where a main character sees people reading the first novel in the series, seeking to ground the story within the reality of its own story. It is unclear at this point whether Mr. Wolfe will ever turn his attention to writing literary fiction, but even at this early point in his writing career it is evident that he can work with considerable skill and he knows his way around creating compelling plots and complex characters that both honor and transcend the cliches and conventions of his chosen genre and that also honors the game he is writing about. This book may certainly be an unofficial Minecraft-fan adventure, but it is an enjoyable adventure and a compelling one that is well worth reading.
In terms of its plot, this book follows the classic U-shaped trajectory of trilogies. If the first book (or movie) of a fantasy trilogy has unlikely heroes winning grand victories against immensely superior foes, the second installments are often far darker and involve a great deal of treachery. Can a sense of justice aimed at supporting newbies survive the prejudices that exist against such people? How do republics deal with the need for security? Is a just nation incapable of self-defense? How does one deal with traitors when one is a basically just person oneself? These are weighty questions, and the book deals thoughtfully with these subjects, not in a heavy-handed fashion but through compelling characters making decisions–some of them mistakes–in the heat of the moment. We see President Stan and his deeply divided council wrestling with how to effectively deal with a new realm, the Nation of Noctem, which has fanatical behavior among most of its leaders and ruled by a treacherous leader who has no qualms about killing his most able subordinates to make sure that they do not threaten him once they are no longer of use to him, and they do not handle it well. By the end of the novel, indeed, our main characters are in a deeply dangerous and beleaguered place, awaiting the final installment to allow Stan to reach his apotheosis of greatness.
There are at least a few aspects of this book that require a fair degree of insight and skill. The author delays the reveal of traitor inside Elementia City to Stan and his fellow republican leaders to the point of maximum impact, allowing the reader to wonder as the villains do if the government of Elementia City is so incompetent as to be unable to recognize traitors. Whether or not it is intentional, this book is a fitting discussion of the limits of constitutionality and the question of war powers and how it is that just regimes can defend themselves against rebellion and treason. As an American, the times of the Civil War and our own present period reminds me that this is not merely a concern in imaginary regimes, but a very realistic one as well. Not only does Wolfe craft a very strong plot with compelling characters whose fate we care about, but he does so in a way that will prompt serious-minded readers to apply the lessons and thoughts about this fictional realm to their own real life political situations, and it strips a great deal of romance from the grubby behaviors within the politics of institutions. Wolfe views the decisions made as flawed but made from the best of intentions, and that is a way to think about even the best of governments and institutions in our own flawed and fallen world.