Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Broken Wheel by David Wingrove. Book review

The Broken Wheel (Chung Kuo Book 7) by David Wingrove. Corvus £14.99

Reviewed by John Howard

David Wingrove’s vast novel Chung Kuo originally appeared in eight volumes between 1989 and 1997. Now Wingrove has ‘recast’ the entire series, spreading out it across twenty volumes, with the addition of completely new material in two prequel volumes and two more planned at the end. The Broken Wheel was part of the original book three, The White Mountain.

In this instalment the action takes place over a short period of time: the summer and autumn of 2207. The continent-spanning multi-levelled world city-state of Chung Kuo is barely holding together. Discontent is still seething in the frequently violent lower levels, and in the higher levels divisions are widening within the ruling Seven. It seems likely that everything, after many close calls, is about to fall apart at last.

In The Broken Wheel – a powerful symbol and one several times referred to and made use of – the old order begins to give way to the new, with the younger members of the ruling establishment and their opponents having the opportunity to start to wield real power, whether behind the scenes or entirely overtly. The old T’ang (ruler) of City Europe dies, and his young son Li Yuan succeeds him, determined to restore stability once and for all, and at any cost. The untried ruler has achieved great – if not almost absolute – power, but will have to exercise it in the context of great responsibility.

One of Li’s first acts is to promote the ambitious Hans Ebert to the trusted position of General, but we know Ebert is playing more than one game. Terrorist attacks continue to plague and destabilise Chung Kuo as the Ping Tao (Levellers) are cleaned up, only to be replaced by another group, the Yu, whose manipulator dreams of nothing less than liberating humanity and restoring its stolen inheritance through the complete physical destruction of Chung Kuo and all it stands for.

Other wild (or perhaps not so wild) cards are played as the webs of intrigue and counter-intrigue are woven and rewoven. As in a dance, remembered names resurface, stay awhile, and fade away again, at least for now. Howard DeVore, arch-enemy of the Seven, remains as implacable as ever, as he survives a major setback. The secret research undertaken by Kim Ward, the boy genius from the Clay – the ruined former surface of the earth now hidden beneath the City in utter darkness – gains new impetus, and for the first time a shadowy organisation calling itself the Sons of Benjamin Franklin makes an appearance. The former New World and the legacy of the vanished American Empire of sixty-nine states seems about to call attention to itself.

With yet more hints of other, larger and potentially catastrophic (depending on the point of view) designs behind the scenes on the part of all sides, David Wingrove’s breathlessly heady mix of scheming and strategy, high politics and low life, beauty and brutality, trust and betrayal that is the world of Chung Kuo leaves the reader wanting more, and waiting with impatience to plunge in all over again the next time. 

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