The Rising Tide by J. Scott Coatsworth

The Rising Tide by J. Scott Coatsworth

The Rising Tide has a large cast, and since most appeared first in The Stark Divide, I wished I’d read Book One more recently in the beginning. The feeling didn’t last, though, because there’s enough context to ground me, even with years lapsing between the books in their world time. Teens had grown up to start their adult lives, for example, while others grew old. I’m not mentioning names only because there are too many key ones.

While I soon reconnected with main characters in the first book, I thought the seeding of side characters who had bigger roles to play in Book Two is well done. A known character thinks about a side character from before, and when that character shows up in real-time, I have the background to place them.

And speaking of seeding, I figured out several big plot things based on the seeding but needed confirmation to be sure. I like that since it means the foundation is there and events don’t happen out of context. I also wasn’t always right about what would happen as some apparent seeds ended up going in different directions than I’d expected.

Detailed descriptions of mundane, if out of our ordinary, tasks build up the mood and sense of place in the book. This pastoral feel emphasizes the contradictions of life within a generation ship run by sophisticated AIs. Those born inside will have no real understanding of their world beyond the curved walls of Forever.

The book has overarching events, personal ones, and interim arcs to keep the story moving. The beginning already starts at a fast pace on these levels as one character is dumped, another is attacked, and so forth. Many of the situations are sticky or tense, but the thread that runs through the entire book was the first to scare me.

The relationship threads are a powerful aspect. Connections develop where none is suspected or believed possible while strong relationships endure despite challenges. This is as good a place as any to mention the breadth of both characters and relationships. The characters come from many backgrounds, genetic, geographic, and economic, while the relationships span the LGBTQ spectrum, asexual, and straight, with both good and bad examples of many. We also see familial ties born of blood or circumstance.

Nor are the characters idealized. Whether it’s mistakes made in the past or during the book, even the heroes are far from perfect, making connecting with them easier. The antagonist has clear motivations. His reasons swing close enough to the line of understandable to be uncomfortable, but his methods do not.

One of the important arcs is that of societal acceptance and treatment of difference. A small portion of the population can interact with the world mind directly. We know this from the first book, but it becomes more important after the first section of The Rising Tide. We see how those aware of this difference react in a variety of ways. The struggle to balance between recognizing the risks behind these abilities and yet not condemning those with them regardless of behavior is clear. I appreciated the discussions where characters think through their responses and what’s behind their reactions.

The first section reads as a complete story. There’s more to tell in the world and in the ramifications, but it has a solid conclusion. That’s not true of the second and third parts. Once I started the second, I had a hard time putting the book down to do necessary things. The book does a good job of blending big challenges with smaller crises to keep the momentum going while setting up the next big thing.

The way this society functions isn’t laid out like a map. Instead, we have a few people chatting here or something happening there to illustrate the myriad of elements necessary to make Forever viable. It made me aware on a deeper level of the spread of consequences when things broke down. I had bought into the story so deeply that I noticed many small world details, questioning them only to have the answer appear a few paragraphs later.

The same is true for the people. It’s the moments between the action as much as when they’re under stress where we learn about the characters through their interactions, even those reflecting poorly on the leads.

The story sucked me in. I didn’t want to stop reading. While there are pastoral moments throughout, the story builds momentum until it’s a rushing crisis by the end. The scope is simultaneously the size of their world, with monumental challenges and sacrifices, and personal ones. We see relationships come into being and grow that are as diverse as the cast, and reconnect to relationships and people we met in Book One. This doesn’t read as a middle book. It’s a complete story on its own while sharing the characters and world of The Stark Divide. That said, while a satisfying ending is a good thing, I’m glad a third book and possibly more exist. I want to check in on these folks again to see how things are going.

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