The first entry in a character-driven space opera, The Far Bank of the Rubicon (Pax Imperium Wars: Volume 1) by Erik Wecks (@erikwecks) takes readers through the prolonged run-up to and early days of a galactic war. Anyone looking for a deep dive into the genre should consider taking a look at this series and the other stories the author has written set in the same “sandbox.”
This sandbox encompasses the Pax Imperium, a coalition empire divided in what I found to be an interesting way. One powerful member of the Empire is a ruthless business corporation, the Unity, while many of the other states are run by royal houses. The largest of these is the House of Athena, which itself serves as the feudal lord to many smaller states. The looming war will pit the “korpis” of the Unity against the Allied “bleeders” (because many follow blood succession) led by King Nicholas of Athena.
This division leads to one of my favorite scenes in the book, when the leader of a small state who has changed sides meets with the Chief Executive Officer of the Unity, the man responsible for the war. The corporate bigwig smirks at the royal’s assurances of loyalty to him as his new “liege lord” and enjoys the turncoat’s disappointment at being “Executive Vice President” and not the new king of Athena.
Although the story starts with a high-tech assassination attempt by a deadly operative code-named Katana, the pace for much of the book is fairly measured. Readers meet and follow the lives of three main characters: Jonas, the second son of King Nicholas, and Jack and Anna, two refugees who escaped the brutality of the Unity (a story told in another of the author’s Pax Imperium books) in the years before the war begins. The development of Jonas from a lonely teenager weary of palace life to a battle-tested leader is particularly well executed.
Once the war begins the story moves a bit quicker and there are some very exciting action sequences ranging from close combat to space battles between massive fleets, and there is a bit of a surprise twist near the end. Throughout the focus is on the Allied side of the conflict — barely seen in this book, the Unity CEO comes off as somewhat of a caricature of the “evil businessman” familiar enough to anyone who’s seen a Bond film from the late 1990s. BUT! Given the level of detail Mr. Weck has put into creating his Pax Imperium sandbox — there are four other novels or short stories now, obviously more coming — I have no doubt that will change.
If you want to delve deeply into a fully realized and fractious galactic universe, check out The Far Bank of the Rubicon and the author’s other Pax Imperium stories. For more about Mr. Weck and his writing, visit his website.