It’s always a pleasure to dive back into the engaging cadences of Walter Jon Williams’ work, and The Accidental War (2018) is no exception. Set in the space opera universe of his earlier trilogy Dread Empire’s Fall, The Accidental War kicks off a new trilogy in the interstellar society of the Praxis, long ruled by the strict guidelines of a now-deceased race known as the Shaa. Since the Shaa died out, the empire has been wracked by turmoil, including the violent Naxid revolt that led to a system-wide war. That war resolved with the revolt quashed, largely thanks to the efforts of two extraordinary, star-crossed officers: Gareth Martinez, a member of the elite Peer class whose flouting of conventional tactics made his Fleet command particularly innovative, and Caroline Sula, who is in fact an impostor who rose to prominence after stealing the identity of a Peer, and later leading an important ground-based resistance movement. Both Martinez and Sula are cooling their heels in the post-war world, but the Praxis is about to face another significant challenge when an empire-wide financial crisis – triggered by the short-sighted corruption of the ruling elite – creates widespread civil unrest. The stodgy, conservative leaders of the Fleet, backed by new racist firebrands in the political class, blame the crisis on the Terran race, which leads to political intrigue, civic strife, and ultimately a new war – with Martinez and Sula caught right in the middle, once again.
The pleasures of The Accidental War are many, although I don’t recommend it as a gateway book; it will likely best be appreciated by fans of the earlier books, going back to 2002’s The Praxis. Familiarity with the worldbuilding and massive roster of characters isn’t entirely necessary, but will certainly be helpful for those who want to hit the ground running. For me it was enough to know that I’d be following the adventures of Martinez and Sula again, a pair of engaging flies in the ointment of conservative Praxis dogma. The action-adventure is slow to ramp here, but Williams has such great command of the court intrigue and greater geopolitical situation, and details it with such bracing confidence, that I was perfectly swept along by its suspenseful, well clocked escalation. In the end, The Accidental War is a bridge book, taking place during the interregnum between two violent interstellar conflicts in order to build to a taut, dramatic inflection point. As such, I think it will be a more successful draw for the already-converted than for brand-new readers. As one of the former, I blazed through it happily and look forward to seeing how the conflict plays out in the next installment.