I was afraid of this. Many times, when a long novel series ends, the final book seems almost anticlimactic. Even trilogies can have this problem (one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Fallon, is one for two in ending trilogies with the weakest book in the series). Kage Baker's "The Company" series has been going on for seven books (not counting short story collections), and the eighth book, The Sons of Heaven, falls prey to this same problem. The book is definitely good, but it fizzles out as an ending to this wonderful series.
Baker pulls all the various pieces together into a cohesive whole as we discover just what the Company plans to do with its immortals, and just how various factions of immortals are going to fight back. The "Time of Silence" is fast approaching, as nobody can see past the year 2355 to discover what's going to happen. Lewis, the bookish immortal who was captured and disappeared a couple of books ago, wakes up unable to see or function but is discovered by a little girl who may be more than she seems. Joseph and his "father", Budu, enlist a powerful ally in his plan to dispense with the Company. Executive Facilitator Suleyman uses his intelligence network to discover the secret of the mortals' continued survival, and the Company itself awakens a powerful new AI which they happen to call "Dr. Zeus." But what about Mendoza and her three-in-one body lovers (Edward, Alec, and Nicholas)? What's been going on with them, and how will they affect the coming cataclysm? Will Edward be able to complete his plans for world domination?
I'll talk about that final point first, as it's unfortunately the main crux of the problem with The Sons of Heaven. Through some weird science (and the help of Alec's pirate-like AI, The Captain), Edward has managed to become the dominant personality in Alec's body and then is able to clone two immortal bodies to implant Nicholas' and Alec's personalities. They are babies, though, and must grow up as normal (though with heightened intelligence and some latent memories of their time with Mendoza, who has to give birth to the bodies). They hide in the distant past while they do so, being educated, learning how to get by in life, and finding out what Edward wants to do with them.
Unfortunately, many of these scenes seem to go on forever. I've been growing more and more tired of Mendoza (which is a shame, as she used to be my favorite character) and her interaction with the three incarnations of her lover. Some of the scenes among the two boys and their very strict "father" Edward, as well as Mendoza, are quite funny and entertaining. But too often, the scenes just kind of sit there, attracting very little interest. The scenes are important to the book, so there's no way they could have been excised without greatly modifying the plot, but I wish they weren't so tedious at times. In fact, these sequences are the main reason that I was slow at finishing the book. Baker's writing is still exceptional, though, making these scenes annoying but still interesting enough to keep you reading.
Baker does do a good job of bouncing from scene to scene, giving the reader enough variety that it doesn't get too boring, though it's too bad that the Mendoza sections seem to be longest. Joseph is another favorite character, and I love what Baker does with him and Budu. His clandestine meetings with Randolph Hearst (who has survived this long due to Joseph making him an immortal in a previous novella) are a treat. I even liked his interactions with the former enforcers who are now in stasis as he goes around to wake them up. These scenes are by far the best, and I loved it every time Baker went back to him.
In fact, everything but the Mendoza scenes are excellent. Baker has created a cadre of characters that's just interesting to read about. Whether it's Suleyman's network of immortal agents working to find Alpha-Omega and the secret to the mortalsí survival or the sinister Labienus and his cohort who are intent on enslaving all mortals, there's some interesting stuff in there, and Baker's characterization skills are unmatched. We even get Lewis back! Long-time readers will be happy about that.
There are a couple of questionable plot elements, however. The constant "first one faction shows up for something and then another one shows up after the first leaves" gets old quickly near the beginning of the book. It seems almost contrived so that Baker can make sure everybody has the appropriate information to bring about plot resolution. Maybe Baker intends it to be funny? If so, itís only mildly amusing, and even that only the first couple of times.
Also, several factions are wiped out seemingly just to make the ending less crowded. Yes, Baker sets the groundwork for what ends up happening, so it doesn't come out of nowhere. But after all the buildup they receive, their disposal seems a bit superfluous - though I have to admit that the scene where this happens is delicious.
Even without these two factions, the ending is almost too crowded, everything coming together at the appropriate time with a mass attack designed to take down the Company once and for all. Baker throws in a couple of nice twists to the end results that makes everything that happened previously worth it. It's a bit convenient, but not overly so. Even better, Baker leaves the world in an interesting place, though I don't think there's anywhere for a new story to go. I would be willing to bet that we'll never see any sequels to this series.
The Sons of Heaven is a flawed gem, like a priceless vase with a big crack in it. Baker's prose is as beautiful as ever, and most of the book is riveting. It's too bad the Mendoza scenes drag the book to a halt way too often. Without that problem, the book would be almost perfect. Instead, it's just a satisfying conclusion that can be difficult to get to at times. "The Company" series is over, and it's been a fun ride. Just watch that bump in the track right before you get off.