World’s End is an indirect sequel to The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge. It explains what happened to the police officer BZ Gundhalinu after the end of The Snow Queen and ties into the events of its direct sequel The Summer Queen. There is also a fourth book set in this world, Tangled Up in Blue, which is a prequel about BZ Gundhalinu. The latter two published books are both still in print, but both The Snow Queen and World’s End are currently out of print, although I thought they were well worth tracking down.
This review will contain spoilers for The Snow Queen since it does take place after the end of that novel. Only the plot description has spoilers so if you are still curious about the book, just skip to the text right after the horizontal line.
World’s End picks up after BZ has left Tiamat and is on a planet called Four. As a failed suicide who still bears the scars for all to see, he is an outcast. He is also depressed about leaving Moon on Tiamat, but he is even more full of despair after his two brothers pay him a visit. At first they just tell him they are going to World’s End to make their fortune, but when BZ is incredulous that they left the family estate behind to make the “Big Mistake” of venturing into the dangerous World’s End, they reveal that they made a few big mistakes already and lost everything. World’s End presents the possibility of great wealth, but many who go there never return – and one year later, BZ’s brothers are still out there somewhere. In spite of the fact that they foolishly got themselves into this mess, BZ feels that it is his duty to go find them and makes his own journey to the perilous World’s End.
Even just getting to World’s End is not easy; first BZ must deal with piles of paperwork, then a thug accompanying the man who gives him a way in. Along the way, he meets a sibyl named Hahn who is unable to go herself but would like someone to find her daughter, another sibyl who ran away to World’s End. As someone looking for missing family, BZ is sympathetic and he agrees to look for the young woman while he is there. However, he discovers more than he could have imagined when he makes a major discovery that will change the universe.
While The Snow Queen was an epic story with a wide cast of characters, World’s End is much shorter and focuses on just BZ. Although there is a very important occurrence that takes place in this book, it is largely character-centric as BZ undergoes not only a literal journey but a personal one. Not a lot seemed to happen for the first half, but I barely noticed since the writing and the main protagonist were both riveting.
Parts of the book are told from the third person perspective of BZ, but it is mainly told from the first person through his journals. He was one of my favorite characters from The Snow Queen as he had a great many traits that made him real and easy to relate to – he was loyal and strongly believed in duty but he was also rather arrogant and set in the way of thinking ingrained into him by his own culture. I really enjoyed learning more about his past and motivations. There were some humorous parts, such as when BZ did not make a great first impression with the man in charge at the Office of Permits by misinterpreting his name as “Moron.” A lot of it was also angsty and introspective, but there’s just something about the way Joan D. Vinge writes BZ that is so poignant. She tells us so much about BZ, his family and his society just when he is reminiscing about his departure from his brothers and whey he had to search for them:
SB caught HK’s arm and pulled him toward the open door, glancing back once, to spit at me, “Gedda.” And after that I didn’t hear from them again. I told myself good riddance.
But instead of forgetting about them, I’ve followed them into World’s End. I can’t believe I’ve done this…the thought of just spending a night in this squalid town is enough to make any reasonable person take the next shuttle back to civilization. And it’s not as if they went off for a holiday week and forgot the time. They disappeared, into an uncharted wilderness! They were totally unprepared for what they did – neither one of them ever attempted anything more dangerous before this than spending all day in the baths. If the wasteland didn’t kill them, the human animals who inhabit it probably did, and picked their bones for good measure. Am I really going out there to let the same thing happen to me–?
When I was a boy, my nurse told me stories of the Child Stealer, who stole highborn babies and replaced them with cretinous Unclassifieds. For years I was sure that’s what must have happened to HK and SB… They chose their fate and if World’s End swallowed them without a trace, they got what they deserved. They left no one and nothing behind, except me…left me with nothing but memories.
But since they’re gone, I’m head of the family now…a title as hollow as it is unexpected. And they are still my brothers. That makes it my duty to search for them; my responsibility to all our ancestors — who will be my ancestors forever, whatever strangers violate my family’s honor and claim my blood as their own. But still, if it weren’t for Father, for what I owe to him…
If it weren’t for me, none of this would have happened. (pp. 11 – 12)
In spite of the fact that his brothers despise him and have no one to blame for their problems but themselves, BZ has to try to help them. It’s his duty as a Gundhalinu, his father’s son but ultimately as someone who can’t help but feel he could have prevented it all.
The outcome of BZ’s voyage to World’s End, his discovery and the possibilities resulting from this are also very interesting, but I’ll say no more to avoid spoiling the end.
I would highly recommend this for fans of The Snow Queen who are interested in reading more about BZ. Joan D. Vinge is becoming a must-read author, and I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next in The Summer Queen.
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.