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In the Hall of the Martian King    by John Barnes order for
In the Hall of the Martian King
by John Barnes
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This is the third in a series starring special agent/spy Jak Jinnaka. In this episode, Jak is no longer a teenager. However, he continues to wrestle with the problems that plagued him in his previous adventures (The Duke of Uranium and A Princess of the Aerie), including fighting the conditioning inflicted on him by Princess Shyl. Jak seems to be on the universe's hit-list, as dire events gravitate to him. Worst of all, the people he cares about seem to suffer from the fallout as well.

In this episode Jak is sent to recover a priceless relic, the life-log of the man who created the religion or philosophy that unites the worlds of the 36th century. Understandably, this relic is attracting others as well, and Jak finds himself vying not only with old enemies like Princess Shyl, but also with competing interests from his own government. (Jak is publicly a promising young member of the Protectorates Administrative Service Corps; in actuality, he is an agent of Hive Intelligence.)

Barnes has created a complex future world that he uses not only to tell an absorbing story, but also to satirize human follies and to question our complacencies. The secret that is hidden in the life-log threatens the stability of Jak's society. As a pragmatist, he is willing to hide that secret. His best friend Dujuv is more idealistic and horrified at Jak's willingness to sacrifice innocents to protect the status quo. In the end, Jak pays a high price for the success of his mission.

Once into it, this is a lively read, with many intriguing characters and concepts. I found secondary characters more interesting than Jak himself, and the slang that peppers the book was maddening. Barnes introduces many new words in the first few chapters. Although familiar to those who have read the prior novels, they interfered with the pace of the tale for me, a new reader. However, I am now caught by the plight of the protagonist and eager to see what awaits the unfortunate Jak in future tales.

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