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The Sunless Countries

(Virga #4)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  635 ratings  ·  37 reviews

In an ocean of weightless air where sunlight has never been seen, only the running lights of the city of Sere glitter in the dark. One woman, Leal Hieronyma Maspeth, history tutor and dreamer, lives and dreams of love among the gaslit streets and cafÃs. And somewhere in the abyss of wind and twisted cloud through which Sere eternally falls, a great voice has begun

Hardcover, 335 pages
Published August 4th 2009 by Tor Books
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  635 ratings  ·  37 reviews

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Sarah Sammis
Aug 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Like so much of my reading I read the forth of Karl Schroeder's Virga series, The Sunless Countries first. My newly opened library has designed their new books section to look like a book store. It makes the new books so appealing that I've been grabbing books later in the series.

The first three books follow Hayden Griffin a man bent on revenge for the deaths of his parents. They had been sun builders, a very valuable skill in the dark balloon skin of Virga. In The Sunless Countries Schroeder
Dec 10, 2009 rated it liked it
The Sunless Countries is not as engaging as the three previous books in this series, set in a created haven for humanity, a balloon world called Virga that orbits the star Vega. Much of the book is spent in review and exposition, carefully explaining the events of the earlier novels from the point of view of historian Leal Maspeth. The details of the world's creation are intriguing, but it comes across as almost documentary when compared to the swashbuckling steampunk feel of the rest of the ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
These books are so close to being perfect... but the people just don’t work for me. Leal is an improvement as a character over Chaison Fanning, but the author’s effort to write an anti-romance ends up coming off as almost condescending.

He’s trying to write a character journey where she goes from thinking she deserves to be rescued and fantasizing about being involved with the sun-lighter to being an independent woman. And her character does that. But it’s all in the telling, not the showing.
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Summary: Surely Steam SF doesn't get better than this? The premise is incredible. It wouldn't work in reality, but as a concept to explore and set stories in motion ... well wow. Against this premise is a set of very interesting characters and an intricate plot ... a little bit far fetched, but hey it works.

Plotline: Plenty of intrigue and complications set in a huge scope. Plenty to keep the reader interested. Huge plot that keeps going and going

Premise: Incredible. It really wouldn’t work.
Gary Bunker
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A country where basic facts are determined not by knowledge or objective reality, but by a majority vote of the citizenry? A giant monster with a vague mission and ineffable methods? The ability to create fusion power, but flying vessels are made primarily of wood and rely on gyroscopes for navigation?

Welcome to the penultimate Virga tale. It's a wild one.
Sep 03, 2018 rated it liked it
As a huge fan of this world and this series, this one started to run out of steam just a little for me. I still love the idea of Virga and all the characters. This is a fun entry into the series but I think I'm going to back off for a while.
Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leal Maspeth is a scholar in the city of Sere, on the edge of winter, far from any of the suns in Virga, and the only light they enjoy is the light they make themselves. But they're approaching a dark age of a completely different sort, as a particularly anti-intellectual religious faction is maneuvering itself into political power... but that may not be the biggest problem. For there's a new force out in the dark, making ships and towns disappear, and the fate of their whole world may depend on ...more
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Another strong book by Karl Schroeder. It's set in his bubble-world, Virga, which was constructed around an artificial sun. This book takes place in the darkness, far away from the lit inner countries, in Sere. This city may be the most intriguing visual yet, with its streets of copper burnished down the middle and green with verdigris at the untrodden edges, its vast turning wheels, sonorous foghorns,sweeping floodlights, and flea cars leaping from wheel to wheel to taxi their occupants to ...more
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I have revised my opinion of this book.

The first time I read this book I really didn't enjoy it as much as the previous books in the Virga series. Its heroine seemed weaker and the story was less about crazy physics and world-building and more about a society teetering on the verge of authoritarianism. And then the ending got kind of weird.

This time around, however I appreciated that Leal Maspeth, the heroine, is actually a much subtler and more interesting character than the swashbuckling
Karl Schroeder’s Virga sequence is undoubtedly one of the best science fiction series in recent years, and in my opinion even among the best ever. It is almost like a small encyclopedia of science fiction in itself in that it showcases so many of the forms the genre takes – planetary romance, golden age adventure story, hard science speculation, singularity and steampunk. And the wonder of the series is that it pulls all those elements into a believable and even plausible whole and turns them ...more
I was on the fence. Two-and-a-half stars. I was going to give it the benefit of the doubt and round up to three. But then the end of the book came up fast and caught me off guard.

The book just ... ended. But the story didn't. I don't know what happens next. I don't know if the heroen succeeds in her quest. I don't know if she finds love, or saves her country from social and political unrest. The book clearly was designed for a sequel, but I can't figure out if a sequel is forthcoming and, more
Mar 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Here's how the Virga books work. You get a slow build where you learn about the characters and the world they inhabit. The characters are probably new and the specific setting is definitely new. Schroeder's world building is so original, detailed and internally consistent you keep reading until you realize you're ripping through the last act like starving piranha being fed ham.

The first three Virga books resolved into jaw dropping swashbucklers, did I say jaw dropping? More like mandible
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: space
There was a good bit of time between my reading the previous book in the series and reading this one, so I have only vague memories of the previous book. Fortunately, that's not much of a detriment as this book is capable of standing on its own. There are a few characters and sub-plots that are pulled in from the previous books, but they are new to the main character so they have to be introduced to her. The biggest problem with choosing to read this book as a standalone, were someone to do ...more
Grayson Queen
Jul 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
The four book in the series and the one that made me hate the last three books.
This is a story mainly told from the perspective of a history teacher. Sound exciting? Yeah, it's not. The book uses the same plot devices as the other three. The characters live with a corrupt government and that is their major nemesis. There is only one character from any of the other books and it's basically a cameo.
There is nothing interesting, intriguing or interesting. The only reason to read this through to try
Aug 08, 2014 added it
There's still some clunky story telling, but this is certainly the best of the series this far. My main complaint is the reliance on lame coincidence to drive the plot. It's not as grievous as whatshername picking up the sacred widget and falling into the town where it gives her super social powers, fortunately. But it still grates.

These novels shine in their creative setting, throwing together bits from many genres. It's just fun!
May 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Schroeder is a hard science fiction writer who builts fascinating worlds AND populates them with interesting characters. Joyce Irvine, who also narrates the other books in this series, has a unique voice that I absolutely love. David Thorn is also a very competent narrator.

I did find it annoying that Irvine and Thorn often switch off narration in the middle of a scene. Whenever they switched at a point that wasn't a chapter break, it distracted me for a couple of minutes.
Jul 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I found this book somewhat slower than the other three books and not quite as engaging. The story and the world have evolved. This book did pick up about halfway through and shed some light on what is happening. I like Leal's character and seeing Hayden Griffin back in the story. I am very much looking forward to the final book in the series.
Sergio Poo
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, favorites
Out of the whole series this is the one I enjoyed the least. Most of the book is a bit slow compared to the other books, I think this is because a completely new character is introduced so her story needs to be setup. But the ending I think makes for it, but I would have liked what happens there to be explored more.
Nov 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Suffers from a seriously problem of...tension. There seems to be little of it, we never really get the sense that the characters are actually in any of the danger that they say they are.

The main character (new in this outing) is also a "quirky bookish female" and those kind of character tropes leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Mar 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sciencefiction
Sometimes you just want a straight-forward adventure novel with believable, complex characters in a richly-imagined, detailed, and internally consistent environment. Books like that are startlingly hard to find, especially well-written ones.

Virga has the advantage of being a strikingly original and breathtaking complete world.

I highly recommend these books.
Dan Carey
Overall, I have enjoyed the Virga series so far. But that said, I'm not much of a series-oriented reader; there are few that I follow to completion. While The Sunless Countries was good and provided more technical/scientific detail behind the "balloon world" of Virga, I think I've exhausted my interest in this universe.
Dec 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Quite enjoying this series for the careful world building and the way the characters are making way for new ones and storylines that take the narrative to a world scale rather than just personal bildungsroman.
Terrence Asselin
Apr 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Just OK- not quite as good as the others in the series- perhaps because it had been so long since I'd read them. The plot points about who to choose as our allies and who is on whose side was confusing and a little implausible.
Ezri K
Apr 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lovely, sf-fan, favorites
Though it is mainly focused on a Historian, it is a really good addition to the series. There is the issue with the government and she deals with it while also contributing to the bigger story. Many references to past characters. As well as a return of Hayden Griffen.
Emerson Harris
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Still a boatload of fun, but by far the weakest in the series so far (but not enough to dissuade me from reading Ashes of Candesce.
Angraecus Daniels
Jun 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Not quite as good as the third novel, but still a good read. I got a little annoyed at the author's habit of starting a chapter by jumping ahead then reflecting back on the missed events. But the overall story was still enjoyable.
Oct 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Not as good as the previous books. Too light, without enough SF. Also, Peter Watts explored the end concept in way more depth in Blindsight.
Sep 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Another great book in this series by Karl Schroeder. Awesome female protanganist who has to go on her heroine journey mostly all by herself to save her world--Virga.
Alain van Hoof
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Also in Part 4 Karl describes the Sci-Fi world with great detail. Not only how things look but also how for example governments act.
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Still good, although the last quarter of the book gets very VERY exposition wall of text. Interesting, but a struggle to get through. Still, I can't wait to read the last one.
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Karl Schroeder is an award-winning Canadian science fiction author. His novels present far-future speculations on topics such as nanotechnology, terraforming, augmented reality and interstellar travel, and have a deeply philosophical streak. One of his concepts, known as thalience, has gained some currency in the artificial intelligence and computer networking communities.

Other books in the series

Virga (5 books)
  • Sun of Suns (Virga, #1)
  • Queen of Candesce (Virga, #2)
  • Pirate Sun (Virga, #3)
  • Ashes of Candesce (Virga, #5)
“The whole glittering nebula of shapes was framed by midnight colors—black, bruised blue, indigo, all textured into intricacy by clouds and the reachless vaults between them. Here, darkness was not simple; it hinted at structures and meanings, hidden activity and watchful eyes. Beacons flickered, miles away, then disappeared behind fog banks. Half-glimpsed ropes twisted and contorted their way up, down, and to every side, synapses reaching to contact the outlier towns and factories of Sere’s hinterland. One or two of those ropes, if you followed them far enough, would emerge into sunlight at other nations’ borders.” 2 likes
“You must listen!” the tiny monster squeaked. She grabbed it as it made to climb onto the dashboard, and then she shook it fiercely. “No!” she bellowed. “You must listen!” 0 likes
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