Utopia Hunters is the 3rd (out of 4) books in Somtow Sucharitkul's Chronicles of the High Inquest series, which I've been reading out of sequence... so for me this is the last book in the series, I am very sorry to say!
Bet let's start at the beginning. The copy I'm holding here sports a horrendous, sickly faux-fantasy cover. Like the rest of the series, too. I am not sure how Somtow - or these books for the matter! - deserved this.
In the end this is the polar opposite of all the Fantasy which currently is masquerading as Science Fiction – this here is very clearly SF, but with just as clearly a (lurid) Fantasy cover, and a series name which also points in that direction...
The book displays a number of events in the run-up to the grand finale of The Darkling Wind (which I read as a stand-alone novel, not realising that it was part of a series – and yes, it works that way, too); most of which were told in the earlier volumes, but this time from a different point of view. It is structured around a number of stories of the inquest, told to Jenjen of the clan of Ir (Darkweavers). These contain a lot of the backstory to the entire cycle as well as stand-alone episodes, all designed to teach Jenjen (and the reader) the history of Ton Elloran, his musician friend Sajit, and to demonstrate the universe they live in and the High Inquest which rules/guides the Dispersal of Man, as told in the words of Sajit:
“Man, a fallen being, needed wars to prevent stagnation, to prevent the heresy of utopia. But the Inquest, in its compassion, had taken all the guilt of war upon itself”
Of all the books in the series this is the simplest in structure – whilst it touches on a large number of threads in the other books it, in itself, is linear, and structured in five 'books': The Book of Children's Dreams / Shapers and Visionaries / Rememberers and Warriors / Three Young Inquestors / The Darkweaver.
This is, by far, the darkest book in the series, infused with a grand, profound, and (as we find during the story) all-suffusing sadness, but with much less of the cynicism which comes through in the other books of the series. The more you know the more you wish you didn't , and the more you understand and feel the sadness in the Inquestor universe, and the reason for the Inquest's torment (and incresingly louder whispered rumour 'the Inquest falls!'). There are hints that such sadness, going beyond the cynicism and power of the (nominally all-powerful and all-compassionate) Inquest is actually part of everybody's life who tries to rule justly and with compassion. I couldn't comment...
This is an essential book in the series, and a magnificent set-up for the final book, The Darkling Wind.
Ignore this grand, poetic, and fascinating series at your own peril – and marvel at the covers...
Title: Utopia Hunters
Series: Chronicles of the High Inquest
Series Number: 3/4
Author: Somtow Sucharitkul
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publication Date: December 1984
Review Date: 120204
Topic: Space Opera