Third entry (Queen of Candesce, 2007, etc.) in Schroeder's series—call it pirate-punk—where corsairs and would-be emperors do weightless battle from wooden-hulled airships inside a gigantic space habitat.
The improbable-sounding setting is Virga, a vast bubble of air enclosed by an impermeable barrier, complete with blobs of dirt, rock, water, forests and fish, lit and heated by controllable fusion-reactor suns, and where only centrifugal force and acceleration can provide the illusion of gravity. Chaison Fanning, formerly admiral of the nation of Slipstream, has been captured and tortured by enemies who wish to know the secret of how he switched on and off Virga's chief sun, Candesce. He will never reveal, however, that the key resides with his superspy wife, Venera. When the cavalry finally arrives, honorable Chaison insists on rescuing his men, thereby unknowingly derailing his mysterious liberator's plan. He then becomes attached to Antaea, a scout for the home guard, a shadowy organization that supposedly protects Virga from the external threat of “artificial nature,” the coldly calculating, all-but-incomprehensible computer intelligences that the universe outside Virga has evolved into. Antaea has her own agenda—she needs the key to save her hostage sister. Amid a maze of plotting and power struggles, Chaison realizes that artificial nature may not be as far away as everybody assumes—and that it's a much greater threat.
Still enormously talented work, but at this point the series needs less of Schroeder's trademark zero-gee swashbuckling and more of the astonishing and sometimes terrifying ideas behind it all.