Book Review: The Causal Angel

The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi, Jean Le Flambeur #3

With his infectious love of storytelling in all its forms, his rich characterisation and his unrivalled grasp of thrillingly bizarre cutting-edge science Hannu Rajaniemi has swiftly set a new benchmark for SF in the 21st century. And now with his third novel he completes the tale of his gentleman rogue, the many lives and minds of Jean de Flambeur.

Influenced as much by the fin de siecle novels of Maurice leBlanc as he is by the greats of SF Rajaniemi weaves, intricate, warm capers through dazzling science, extraordinary visions of wild future and deep conjecture on the nature of reality and story.

And now we find out what will happen to Jean, his employer Mieli, the independently minded ship Perhonen and the rest of a fractured and diverse humanity flung through the solar system.


Last year I had the chance to read Hannu Rajaniemi's sequel, The Fractal Prince, to his stellar debut,  The Quantum Thief. I am a big fan of authors who defy the normal set rules of fantasy and science fiction and create there own this can either turn out so-so or produce a very ambitious book. The Jean Le Flambeur series definitely belongs to the latter case. Hannu Rajaniemi holds a Ph.D. in mathematical physics and isn't afraid to use several of the science concepts and theories in his stories. In the The Fractal Prince I had to scratch my head a couple of times to fully understand it, but rereading these scenes only bolstered a much better hard wired science fiction feeling. Hannu Rajaniemi's books are in a complete league of their own amongst the science fiction genre, it's unique and mind cracking good. 

The Quantum Thief introduced us to the main protagonist of the story Jean Le Flambeur, a gentlemen thief who has had quite the (in)famous reputation, Jean eventually found himself woundup in the endless loops of the Dilemma prison and was saved by Mieli and her spaceship the Perhonen. In order to get his freedom back he has to make the ultimate heist job. In the second book The Fractal Prince, Hannu Rajaniemi upped the stakes even more and went for a very ambitious plot. This time around Jean Le Flambeur had to hack into a Shrodingers box to free a god. But just like its predecessor, this is far from a straightforward job for Jean, he had to face many challenges...

The Causal Angel picks up directly from The Fractal Prince. In the end of the second book Jean lost Mieli as Perhonen shot her into space to save her. Now Jean finds himself in a desperate quest to save Mieli, he made a promise and if it is one thing that we have learned from Jean is that, even though the trickster and his many personalities, he is and always will be true to his word. Mieli is special and the part she has inside her, a special Founder Gogol is of high interest for many of the galaxy, the race is on for Jean to rescue her on time. Where you thought the earlier two books were ambitious in the actions that Jean undertook, The Causal Angel again tops it off as Jean has to hack and take-over the Realm of the Zoku that now have Mieli. There is a definite complication in the mix as Jean isn't alone on his ship but is accompanied by the young version of Matjek, Jean cannot leave Matjek alone on his ship, he has a brilliant mind, loves his books but holds a dangerous threat... Jean really has his work cut out for him, and it that wasn't enough to start with, along the way he discovers some true intentions and other dangerous players take to the stag. 

Just as I said with the review of The Fractal Prince the story is just mind blowing and if you tread into the fine details it will spoil it all, its these kind of stories that you have to read without having read any review to be honest. Hannu Rajaniemi broaches again some very cool concepts and keeps building on them page after page. I do have to mention that it is best to get acquainted with the first two books for the terminology as you aren't spared a moment in getting the explanations of what it all is. Is this a final and satisfying conclusion to the Jean Le Flambeur series? Yes it is! The ending of the book is one that will put a smile on your face. I like it when you have the more powerful forces make their own plays and for me this happened in the end and I do hope so that we will see much more stories set in this universe even though the series has come to an end. 

The characters of The Causal Angel are all recurrent. First up is Jean Le Flambeur, the gentlemen thief, in my earlier review I compared him to Eli Monpress and again he proves to be the infernal trickster but he also shows that he is much, much more than only fun and games. His goal now is to rescue Mieli. With all that has transpired and having found himself again he is getting more and more "responsible" in his actions and seems that he starts to value other things more. I am a big fan of Jean's character in all that he acts and reacts there are some very fine moments with him. Next you have Mieli, who saved Jean from the Dillema Prison way back and they have created a bond. But Mieli finds herself in a completely different environment that she was used to. By placing her in such a secluded area where she has to fend for herself, Hanny Rajaniemi brings out the best in her character, yes she was already a strong and determined woman but it comes to the full show in her part of the story. Besides Jean and Mieli there are a few more added to the mix, those of Matjek and Josephine. We meet up with the younger and on face value innocent Matjek, he likes his books and bug Jean with more than a few questions about the why's and what's and if's of the stories, but one important thing must not be forgotten, Matjek is a very smart boy... and if you loose him out of your sight, things can go terribly wrong. Josephine also added an interesting perspective, she is the one that set in motion for Jean to be freed from the Dillema Prison. Basically Josephine has ordered almost every move for Jean to do.. but is it until now? Whenever you have both Josephine and Jean in a room together there is something of a romantic plug trying to spark but it stays at that, this was one thing that I really enjoyed reading about their complexity. 

Out of the blue Hannu Rajaniemi drops the scene with the All-Defector. This is exactly the stuff that will hit you out of the ball park. I hadn't seen this coming. It's with these kind of plot twists that, when you finish a book and now also a series that you will look back at it with a great smile on your face recounting every single moment of the stories again and again. Going from ehhh.. what does that mean to wow did he really just do that? With the All-Defector's introduction a few things do become clear and it was great to read how several events from the earlier books were all put into perspective, some things can be ordered, other cannot but in the end you will always leave you mark one way or another. 

The Causal Angel is the best yet in the Jean Le Flambeur series. From the start of the series in The Quantum Thief Hannu Rajaniemi dared something new and defied most of the rules of the current science fiction genre. Creating a complete new set of rules with his hard wired science science fiction space opera. There are some concepts in the books that took me sometime to fully grasp or look up to what the theories really mean but I am always in for a challenging read and what made these books even better for me is the limited explanation of several of the technology that Hannu Rajaniemi uses in his story, this readily allows you to think for yourself that what it all could mean. In The Causal AngelHannu Rajaniemi again hits all the right spots, the characters and the rich and interesting surroundings from the spaceships down to the vir's. The bottom line for The Causal Angel and the Jean Le Flambeur series: it's evocative and can be mind-bogglingly at times but this creates a highly addictive air around it, and once you get through to the fine details you will be amazed. This is must read science fiction. 

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