I'd like to love Coyote Rising more; Allen Steele has created a very original tale of interstellar colonization. Unfortunately, I found the plot and the characters lacking the substance required to truly distinguish a novel, no matter how original its premise.
The first book in the series, Coyote, depicted a fantastic new world, Earth-like in so many ways yet also devastatingly alien. Even as the original colonists began to settle the planet, more ships from Earth arrived, bringing with them a social collectivist philosophy that threatened to undermine the existing colony's stability. Thus, Steele sets the stage for Coyote Rising, tagged as "a novel of interstellar revolution."
Therein lies the problem: Coyote was interesting by virtue of the world the colonists were exploring and the challenges they had to face; Coyote Rising is almost purely driven by plot, and I enjoyed that far less. There are still some environmental elements to the conflicts faced by our protagonists, most notably a volcanic eruption that cools Coyote's climate, but they seem secondary to Steele's need for the original colonists to revolt against the tyrannical administration of the "Western Hemisphere Union," personified by the irrational Luisa Hernandez.
In the first book, we meet Hernandez only briefly toward the end. As the leader of the second wave of colonists, she seems to honestly believe that social collectivism is the best form of government, and Robert Lee's decision to abandon the original colony and take the original colonists into hiding is prudent. Yet in Coyote Rising, any hint of depth in Hernandez's character is gone. She's a scheming, shallow antagonist whose only desire is total oppression and control. Where's my complex villain who agonizes over her actions, questions whether her morals are correct, then decides her course of action is the only just one?
The antagonists also suffer from an unfortunate tendency to go rogue. Over the course of Coyote Rising, a significant number of people in positions of power with the WHU colony switch sides and join the original colonists (this doesn't count the droves of people fleeing to the original colony because the new colony is a slum). On the surface, this makes sense. Steele's emphasizing how collectivism has failed the colony in the face of the challenges of settling Coyote. Yet the very fact that the collectivist stance seems so indefensible has two unfortunate consequences: firstly, it makes the actions of die-hard antagonists, like Hernandez, even more unconvincing; secondly, it undermines the threat of the antagonists. Steele's trying to make a big point about how humans will fight for freedom, even if it means death, but his protagonist's easy philosophical success undermines his efforts to advance this theme.
If I seem overly negative, it's only because Coyote Rising was so good that it could have been so much better. The book isn't beyond redemption: it has great action scenes, as well as truly moving ones. My favourite scene, the most touching one, occurs near the end of the book, as Robert Lee confronts Luisa Hernandez. I read it as if it were in slow motion, knowing what would happen, and it still moved me. That's why I'm critical of this book: it had potential. Here's hoping Coyote Frontier improves my opinion of this series' literary merits.