science fiction novel by John Barnes, the sequel to The Duke of Uranium. * * * 3/4

SPOILER ALERT (for the previous story)

In our previous episode, Jak Jinnaka, our 37th century budding James Bond, helped Psim Confinalez, the Duke Of Uranium, overthrow the previous Duke, Psim's brother Pukh. Toktru, Jak had the help of his toves Dujuv, Myx, Phrysaba, Pabrino, and his new Rubahy tove Shadow on the Frost. Trouble is, intrepid reporter Mreek Sinda turned Jak's exploits into a docudrama that gave Jak all ofthe credit. His friends were a bit miffed but got over it.

Now, Jak and his best tove Dujuv had spent more time getting into trouble in gen school than they did studying, and when all was said and done, their low grades kept them out of the Public Service Academy, the road to greater things on the Hive, the large, militarily dominant L5 habitat that is their home. The Duke's gratitude led to his sponsoring Jak and Dujuv to the PSA. The government of the Hive likes to help out friendly governments.

So, at the beginning of the story, Jak and Dujuv have completed two years at the PSA. Jak is still not paying attention (he despises ethnography), and regularly gets into trouble, usually dragging Dujuv along with him. For a summer activity, they caused an interplanetary incident, taping a religious ritual on Venus that happened to make them a lot of money when they sold it, but giving the Venereans "fans" that they decidedly did not want. Jak escapes expulsion when he agrees to the Dean's demand for a Junior Project that will take him away until things calm down.

If you recall the previous story, Jak's demmy Sesh turned out to be Princess Shyf of the Greenworld, one of the immense collection of space habitats at Earth's L4 Point called the Aerie. Jak's exploits in TDoU also led to his rescuing Shyf from the clutches of Pukh Confinalez. After his meeting with the Dean, Jak suddenly receives a call from the princess, asking for Jak to come to the Greenworld and do a little dirty work for her. And bring her old toves Dujuv and Myx along for company. Intrigue of this sort was exactly what the PSA was created for, and the Dean heartily approves the project.

Well, Jak, Dujuv, and Myx arrive at Greenworld to discover that the message was faked. Nevertheless, they're there, and the Princess's intelligence chief gives them the choice of house arrest, or entering the Princess's service as part of the Palace Guard.

Princess Shyf turns out to be something other than the fun-loving demmy that Jak remembered from gen school. The Palace Guard is a place she puts her rivals to hobble them. And humiliate them at the same time. Psychological conditioning makes the Princess's distant cousins (and now Jak and Dujuv) adore and desire her. So, for the Palace guard, "service" is a verb, masen?. But Jak and Dujuv manage to extract themselves from their unfortunate plight when they thwart an assasination attempt of the King. They are sent to clear up a little labor unrest among miners on Mercury. This situation turns out to be just as bad, in a somewhat more conventional way. What happens? You'll just have to read the book.

I find it impossible to give a rating below * * * 1/2 to a book I read in one sitting, staying up until 4:30 am to do so and making myself late for work the next day. Still, A Princess of the Aerie is weaker than The Duke of Uranium. For one thing, it leans heavily on the events of the previous story. Barnes includes all of the elements that made that novel successful, but they just don't seem to hold together as well. Some of the scenes are really weak links between the various plot phases.

Still, A Princess of the Aerie is worth reading at least once. Barnes portrays Jak's universe just as vividly as before, and develops it some more. Jak grows up, a little bit at least, even if he alienates most of his friends in the process. Jak's experiences plant the seeds of a social conscience in his mind. Yes, a conscience in Jak Jinnaka. If you thought you had seen the solar system's seamy underbelly in The Duke of Uranium, you are in for a shock. Things are decidedly seamier in A Princess of the Aerie.

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