I finally finished Princeps' Fury last night. I must admit, this one did not grip me nearly as much as the earlier books in the series (let alone as much as his Dresden novels); I read the last one or two hundred pages a chapter or two at a time.
The big problem I had was that a number of things happened, or were talked about, that just didn't make sense to me, so I'd put the book down to think about why when that happened. The first of those was the description of the population, especially the size, and size of cities, of Canea. I just can't see how a society driven by "might makes right" can possibly get anywhere near that size. It just won't have the necessary stability.
And that's doubly so when they are so bellicose, as a society. Add into that that, given body size, Canes won't breed very quickly, and you have a formula for small villages run by absolute leaders who will never accomplish anything as a society. It makes me think of Sparta: excellent fighters, but neither broad, nor lasting, influence.
And actually, I can even point to the book itself for evidence of the speed of breeding (additional evidence can come from how much longer gestation is for larger breeds, as well as how tiny the litters are). When we meet Varg's family, it sounds like about a dozen. He's six hundred years old. That's 30-40 human generations (I'm assuming human generations are a bit smaller than the currently rough estimate of twenty years), so we'd expect at least several hundred offspring. In fact, I'd say that several hundred just in the last generation would be pretty likely; that would only be 10-20% increase per generation (2.2-2.4 kids per family, on average).
Anyway, enough about breeding. There were several more issues with the Vord. The biggest of these is keeping them fed; how do you capture enough energy for them to breed at that speed, let alone do anything more constructive? Next, there was only one breeding queen on the Aleran continent. It was estimated that a queen could breed 100 per day. That'll never allow them to expand to the millions required to conquer Canea, especially given a) their profligate fighting strategies, b) the number of non-combatants required to maintain the croach, c) the amount of time given (4-6 years), and d) the extra time involved in creating the bigger creatures (to say nothing of the armored ones), and e) the number of fronts they would need to fight along at the start. And that isn't even accounting for the head queen going back to Alera, and doing stuff there.
It also ignores the time involved in the Vord evolving. That takes time, because even with intelligence driving it, there'll be false starts along the way.
Anyway, at 100 per day, with three queens for five years, you're only talking half a million. That isn't a small number, by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't anywhere near enough for what was described. It might be within an order of magnitude. Maybe.
Plus, do you want to try to fight a war where your troops must be within 20 miles of "headquarters" at all times? Especially one where you're trying to take over entire continents? The only way that might be feasible is if you can move several times as fast as your opposition, but that's obviously not the case. Plus, if you were trying to move that fast, where would that leave each day's offspring? That's right, out of range of control and (more importantly) out of range of protection.
Plus, how helpful is the queen's telepathy? She's already busy controlling all of her offspring, how does she have any left to sift through the thoughts of the people around her. And how close does she need to be to use it? Certainly within line of sight, so you're looking at a practical limit (in a battle situation) of half a mile. And, likely, a whole lot less than that.
It really won't be helpful.
Plus consider that there's going to be a limit to how many Vord-lings she can control at once. I don't know what that limit is, but there would have to be one, and I've got to think that it's a whole lot less than 100k.
Another of the issues that bothered me (though I should have noticed it way back in Academ's Fury, it's true) is that the queen has all these physical abilities. Now, in and of itself, that's fine, but now we know that they're a hive mind. Given that, what possible reason is there for her to have any physical ability at all, beyond breeding and controlling the others? It just serves no purpose. To put it another way, there's no reason for it to evolve. Also, we haven't seen any indication of gestation to allow all of that reproduction. The genes need to be passed on somehow. It certainly isn't parthenogenesis, since they aren't clones.
Ok, enough of that. A more minor, but still significant, issue is with Varg getting involved in the fight with the queen. I don't understand how he was fast enough to be able to contribute there. The Canim seem to be on par with humans for hand-to-hand fighting speed (otherwise they would have destroyed the Alerans when fighting the legions. Not beaten, but annihilated), Tavi was sped up to several times normal human speed (and was probably above average in speed to begin with), and was still having trouble keeping up. So how was Varg able to even threaten her? It just doesn't follow.
And finally, there was the survival of Invidia. Explaining it by having the Vord get rid of the poison for her was really only a tiny part of an explanation. The bigger part of it was how they got her out of the camp. She was already thought dead by the medics (who rely on more than just feeling for breath, don't forget), plus she was in the middle of the camp. So the Vord would have needed to have snuck in to the middle of the camp, undetected, and taken a person (meaning that it wasn't just a mouse-sized being doing the sneaking) out. Plus known how to handle the poison, which sounds less likely the more I think about it. After all, there's a reason medical researchers don't use lizards for preliminary drug testing.
Anyway, enough about why it took so much longer. What did I like?
I thought it was very interesting, having the queens look like Kitai. I kind of assumed, the first time, that it was due to finding her face in Tavi's mind, and matching that. But then when the second one did, as well, that went out the window, as it obviously wasn't a temporary thing. So I think it has something to do with Kitai and Tavi sneaking into the tree back in the first book, although I don't know what the connection is. That does beg the question, though; the healing mushroom (or whatever it was; I've forgotten already) would seem to need to come back to some significance at some point.
If nothing else, that would be a reason to not kill off all of the Vord, given the chance. Hmm... slave collar on the Vord queen? That would certainly make for an interesting solution, though not one I think is likely.
One thing about this book is that it left me feeling like I was reading Ender's Game in a fantasy setting. Well, at least the second half of it, on Phobos (or was it Deimos?). Try to ignore the foot soldiers, and go for the queen.
The backstory intrigue was rather interesting, particularly with Invidia removed from the political picture. It seemed a bit glib to have Invidia and Attis be merely political allies who happened to be married, although I'd have to re-read the earlier books to see if that's really supported by what we saw. My vague memories say that it's a bit of a stretch. I did like the idea of Invidia being a spurned potential wife of Septimus.
Raucus and Attis do seem like interesting characters. We'll have to see how things play out with them.
I was a bit surprised with how the slavery was dealt with. They cut it off at the source, but didn't do anything about the people already enslaved. That surprised me quite a bit. I had figured they'd need to get their own collar on Brencis to get him to put the others back on the path to serving Gaius. Just killing him seemed a bit... off, I guess. The other thing that irked me about it was making such a big deal about how tough it was to deal with him. If we hadn't seen Tavi hand him his ass using nothing but his fists, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but...
And it seems that there isn't really a ceremony to transfer furies from one person to another, as I'd speculated about after the last book. I was pretty surprised there seems to've only been one fury transferred, although what a fury. I suppose that fury is the supernatural manifestation of being the First Lord. Nifty. I guess we'll see if there were other, lesser, ones as well. Maybe she'll show Tavi why he hasn't been able to manifest a fury yet, although I do wonder why that didn't even come up in this volume.
Overall, I guess this one wasn't too bad, although I'd easily rate it the weakest of the series. Hopefully, First Lord's Fury is much better. We'll see, soon.
Update: I forgot about a couple of other issues I had. One was feeding the army when they left Alera Imperia; I can't see how they had a chance to carry much food with them. Plus, they were running for their lives, and getting all those stores would certainly slow them down.
Another was the figurehead on the boat saving Tavi; the boat was moving away from him, so I can't see how she could possibly reach that far. It'd be reaching the entire length of the boat.
What was more interesting was the ice ships. I was awfully surprised by them. I figured that the Knights Flora would be going nuts, and building big ships. I didn't think of the Igni going nuts like that.
But the ice seems a much bigger stretch, because of the cold stones. The stones would necessarily have their effect in a sphere, not a plain. So the walls and floors would be as thick as the effect of the stones, meaning that you would need thousands (probably tens of thousands, actually) to create a structure along the lines of what was described. And unless the operation was trivial, I wonder how they could get that done in the time described. Actually, it seems difficult even if the operation is trivial (which seems unlikely as well, since they aren't ubiquitous). Crafting something that big is just not easy; there's a lot of ways for it to go wrong.
Anyway, just needed to get those off of my chest.