The January Dancer - Michael Flynn I'm torn between giving this 3 or 4 stars (for the moment, I've settled on 3). It's definitely more than 3 but I want a few more days to pass while I digest the book because I've read a few lackluster efforts recently and I want to be sure I'm just not overcompensating for finally finding something worth reading and fun.

As you may have surmised, I very much enjoyed this space opera. It reminded me a bit of Iain Banks' Culture books in the irreverent style of writing and the variety of worlds Flynn can just barely touch on. Actually, the length and pacing of the book is nearly perfect. I may have wanted to know more but it would have needlessly slowed the narrative, and Flynn is good about giving the reader enough information to follow what's going on (though it does demand a bit closer reading than one might usually give a book like this).

The story is simple enough - a tramp freighter finds a prehuman artifact (the January Dancer) when it's forced to stop for repairs in an uncharted system. The discovery sets off a chain of events where a number of actors all vie to take possession of the treasure. The book focuses on a group thrown together by chance: Hugh O'Carroll (aka Ringbao della Costa), once asst. Planetary Manager of New Eireann and quondam guerilla leader; Greystroke and Bridget ban, a Pup and Hound, respectively, of the Ardry (explained below); and the Fudir, a Terran criminal from Jehovah. They track the Dancer across several worlds before finding it and confronting its power.

The universe Flynn creates is very interesting. Human-colonized space is divided between the Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery, divided both by politics and a galactographic feature known as the Rift. An unspecified (but long) time in the past, a catastrophic war brought down the Commonwealth of Suns (centered on Earth), Terra was devastated, and the Periphery worlds entered a "dark age." When our story begins, the CCW rules the worlds near Terra on the far side of the Rift. By all accounts, it appears to be a grim, authoritarian state ruled by Those of Name (Flynn is quite good at names with just the right amount of "verve" and "cadence"). The ULP is an extremely loose concatenation of the periphery worlds that give varying degrees of allegiance to the Ardry of High Tara, who enforces his will through the efforts of his Hounds and Pups, a highly trained policing force. Space travel is accomplished by following "rivers" or "roads" of non-Einsteinian space-time anchored to star systems (they're named for old Terran trade routes and highways: "the Silk Road," "Pacific Palisades," "Route 66," etc.). My stripped down description does little justice to Flynn's ability to create colorful and interesting settings and characters, alas.

This is my first encounter with Flynn's writing, and I was favorably impressed. Enough so that I'll keep my eyes open for opportunities to read more.