Wow. If the Dark Forest ended with surprising optimism, it’s stomped out here. This is a beautiful but incredibly bleak book, terrifying in several senses and depressing in others. There’s thrilling tension but oh my… the sheer brutality of the events that unfold is breathtaking.
In the middle of all of this is Cheng Xin, who is such a stark contrast to the singular, selfish way of thinking that the rest of the universe adapts in order to survive. I admit that I wasn’t too keen on her as a character to begin with as it felt that she was being characterized more through inaction, but the truth is, she has far more agency than meets the eye, and while she may be just an “ordinary person,” she is the one who shapes the world. It’s her way of thinking and her decisions (made through love and compassion, and the desire to resist the dark forest without falling into the trap of aggression) that gives her so much power, even when you’d expect that it shouldn’t. Upon finishing the book, I had to wonder what the outcome would have been if she hadn’t been alone in her way of thinking, if the people in charge of progress hadn’t operated purely under the principles of the dark forest theory. Maybe the outcome would have been the same, but that’s one of the things the book invites you to consider, and think long and hard about.
This really is a brutal book, but with a lot of beauty in it. The explorations of galactic phenomena were fascinating, and even the more fantastical ideas are riveting and richly developed. And as for that particular instrument of destruction… well. That was one of those incredible, horrifying, intriguing things that’s easy to appreciate, and even easier to become paranoid about, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. (For now…)
Overall, this is an amazing series, heavy on concepts and character. It’s absolutely worth checking out, but maybe leave this last book for the days when you’re not feeling a crushing sense of hopelessness. It’s very much NOT one of those books that will try to lift you back out.