Truth of the Divine is the sequel to Axiom’s End, a first-contact science fiction novel I loved so much I was a bit afraid to read the sequel. Unlike most science fiction, this story takes place in the recent past. George W. Bush was president in the first book and in the second, he has resigned to be replaced by Cheney. We are still with Cora, a young woman who dropped out of college, and Ampersand, an alien who has befriended and bonded with Cora. They are in a CIA facility where Cora translates for the alien. You would think that would be a well-paid gig, being so singular, but you would be wrong. Cora is suffering PTSD from the events in the first book and lacks the money to pay for therapy or the meds her doctor prescribed. The CIA isn’t even providing insurance.

Things really heat up when another alien arrives on the scene with an explosive fold in space/time. The whole world saw the burst of light. Ampersand realizes that the last of his bonded cohort has arrived to kill Ampersand and himself as their cultural mores demand ritual and mutual suicide so they all die together. Cora and Ampersand go to look for his symphile and along the way, Cora takes a reporter hostage and Ampersand imprisons his symphile while taking off to hunt for another alien, one he lied to Cora about.

The novel is very much about Cora realizing Ampersand has been lying a lot and Ampersand realizing he needs to truth Cora more. I came to really love Ampersand’s symphile, Enola/Nikola, a much more talkative and extremely literal alien. His friendship with the reporter is lovely.

There is the usual bigotry, hate, xenophobia, and political opportunism. Generals see a controlled warning as aggression. Self-defense is portrayed as offense in propaganda media. It mirrors today and the Trumpist anti-immigrant racism so closely.

I loved Truth of the Divine but it suffered from being a bit too dogmatic. I think this is more a reflection of the times we live in than Lindsay Ellis’ skill as a writer. When a coup failed just a few months ago and one party is laying the legal groundwork for invalidating elections for a future coup in broad daylight, it is a time to be loud and excessive. Subtlety is not an effective weapon against authoritarianism. Ellis is using this story to sound the alarm and I am grateful for her effort. I just think it weakens the story. Democracy, I think, is more important than a fifth star in my subjective rating.

I received an ARC/e-galley of Truth of the Divine from the publisher through NetGalley & Shelf Awareness.