Ex-Envoy Takeshi Kovacs serves as a pro-Protectorate mercenary in a planetary uprising on Sanction IV, one of the planets humankind colonised with the help of ancient Martian star charts. During a brief respite from the war aboard a hospital ship, Kovacs is contacted by a member of an archaeological mission who promises rich rewards if he helps them return to a dig site in an active war zone to uncover and claim the most significant find in human history since the discovery of the first Martian remains on Mars.
Listened to the audiobook with Todd McLaren – good narrator.
I’ve said before that I like series in which sequels depart in style/genre from the original, in order to keep things fresh. In Broken Angels, Morgan does exactly that: where Altered Carbon was a bio-cyberpunk detective novel, Broken Angels is much more military sci-fi. Unfortunately, this time, I think the (sub)genre-switch had the opposite effect of what I usually see: where Altered Carbon felt constantly new and interesting, Broken Angels is unfortunately just far more generic.
Our protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, is much more at home on the battlefields of Sanction IV in Broken Angels than he was in either the dark alleyways or the high society of Earth in Altered Carbon. I think his nihilistic attitude is far less interesting when he is surrounded by a global-scale nuclear war instead of the mansions of the über-rich and immortal.
I also felt like Morgan used his most interesting science fiction concept – being able to download consciousness and transfer it to a different body or a virtual world – better in Altered Carbon than in Broken Angels. In the second book, a lot of the characters that die conveniently have their consciousness-storing stack destroyed alongside their sleeve (body), leaving them dead without recourse like they would be in any other story.
That is not to say that there are no interesting/gruesome tid bits of speculation – like the use of virtual reality timescales to shorten long voyages (or as a means of torture….) and the wholesale of the stacks of victims of war in their thousands by weight (yikes). But overall, Altered Carbon is constantly throwing curveballs or blowing your mind with the possibilities of re-sleeving, and Broken Angels just isn’t.
That is at least in part because Broken Angels delves a lot deeper into one aspect of Morgan’s universe that only existed as drops of flavour in Altered Carbon: the ancient Martian civilisation from which humanity derived the knowledge to find habitable planets out in the vastness of space.
Broken Angels revolves around an archaeological dig for Martian techno-artefacts, and the mysteries the mission uncovers when they hit the historical jackpot. This is (by some distance) the coolest element of the book, and if that two-line description tickled your fancy, Broken Angels might be worth reading just for that.
While the dig is an important element of the book, it is unfortunately mostly a McGuffin, as the plot focusses instead on the conflicts between the different members of the expedition.
Frustratingly, during the entire book I felt like I had skipped a chapter dealing with Kovacs’ and his fellow expedition members’ motivations (so much so, in fact, that I re-listened to the first couple hours of the book after finishing just to be sure).
This next sentence might be a slight spoiler, but towards the end of the book I lost track of the crosses, doublecrosses and triplecrosses going on, and I hardly cared. I’m a relatively attentive reader/listener so this hardly ever happens to me. Perhaps it wouldn’t have if I was reading instead of listening. At any rate, the scheming and find-the-imposter sections of the book completely fell flat for me – but they take up a large portion of Broken Angels. The action sequences and worldbuilding unfortunately could not make up for that.
Broken Angels is not bad, I just found it relatively forgettable. If only Morgan wrapped all that interesting stuff on Martian archeotech in a better plot…