The Third Claw Of God, the second novel in Adam-Troy Castro's Andrea Cort novels, confirms this series really is something special: the story of a hard-assed former child war criminal who flies around the galaxy solving crimes committed in exotic megastructures. But it's even better than that sounds. Spoilers ahead!
In Adam-Troy Castro's novels, Andrea Cort was born on a colony world where humans and the native aliens lived in total harmony – until one day, everyone in their community went mad and killed each other. The only survivor, Cort was eight years old, but she was still branded a war criminal, which makes it harder for the grown-up Cort to travel around investigating murders in extreme environments in space.
Part of the fun of these novels seems to be where Castro will put Cort next: the first book, Emissaries From The Dead, takes place in a weird tube-shaped habitat where some humans live in the upper branches, at constant risk of falling hundreds of miles into toxic atmosphere. The second, The Third Claw Of God, takes place on a space elevator, which stalls out just outside a planet's atmosphere. People are constantly accusing Cort of being a monster, and she half believes it herself.
Cort's a counselor with the human Diplomatic Corps, but in the first novel she becomes a secret agent of the godlike artificial intelligences that run the universe, the AISource. The AIsource is searching for a way to die, a plan which a splinter group of AIs opposes bitterly, and Cort has promised to help the AIs die because she hates them and blames them for her problems.
Meanwhile, Andrea Cort has one of the most fascinating romantic relationships in science fiction. In the first novel, Emissaries From The Dead, she met the Porrinyards, a man and a woman whose consciousnesses were linked cybernetically, making them one person with two bodies. The Porrinyards and Andrea fell in love, and in the second novel, they're a couple – or a threesome, depending on how you look at it. The Porrinyards may have a single mind, but they're also capable of being in two places at once, and concentrating on different things at the same time. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that both their bodies are shockingly attractive. In one of the novel's hottest scenes, the Porrinyards wake from cryo-sleep extremely horny – apparently it's one of the main side effects of interstellar travel – and they have a hot threeway with Andrea in the shower. She loses track of which one of her hot lovers is doing what to her, after a while – but it doesn't matter anyway, since they're only one person.
I think that's the main reason I enjoyed the second Cort novel, The Third Claw Of God, even more than the first. Castro spent a lot of time setting up Cort's situation in the first novel, and now that it's in place, he can have a lot more fun with it. We get to see how, in practice, a relationship with a linked pair would work out – especially as the Porrinyards help Andrea investigate a particularly sticky murder. The Porrinyards want Andrea to join them and become a third linked mind in their gestalt entity, but they're content, for now, to love her as a separate entity. And they're a huge help to anyone investigating a murder, because they can be in different rooms and still know everything the other knows. They're the perfect Watson to Cort's Holmes. Unfortunately, one of Andrea's main modes of thought is rage and paranoia, so she's constantly accusing her lover(s) of hiding something from her. And we also see how complicated her life as an agent of the AISource is really going to be.
I already loved the first book, Emissaries From The Dead, for its crazy setting, the weird interactions with AIs and our first meeting with the Porrinyards. But the second book has fully sucked me in – for one thing, it's clear this isn't just going to be one of those series where Cort goes around having stand-alone adventures and investigating locked-room murders in weird space stations or whatnot. The second book moves forward the story of Cort's life as an AI secret agent in a meaningful way, and also gives us a totally new spin on Cort's situation. It's not quite that everything we thought we knew was wrong, more like we're seeing it all from a totally new perspective as we learn a bunch of new facts.