Justa, the now-elderly daughter of a famous rebel general of the 23rd century, tells the tale of her father's exploits in the dying days of an empire to set the record straight on his name, This fairly mediocre (good idea, meh writing/story) steampunk/science fiction novel is narrated by Justa, as she describes the life of her adored father General Black and her own military career. The novel is set in the 23rd century, in a vast empire that controls all of North America, all of Europe (including Russia), north Africa, and some of the Middle East. It is called the Pan-Polarian Empire, ruled by an Emperor, and it has space colonies on Mars and Jupiter as well.
However, the empire's power begins to wane when a a genetically-engineered plague attacks the very foundation of the empire's strength - its technology. The plague corrodes metal, destroying all the advanced technology and machinery that built the empire. All of General Black's previous military victories, which brought new territories into the Empire, are now meaningless as the empire no longer has the means to hold them. The world is regressing into a pre-industrial age, and the empire plunges into chaos as its strength unravels. People are dying of the metal plague too, and the tyrannies of an awful, evil, Caligula-like emperor named Luke are exacerbating the situation by torturing people, executing people, and not listening to his advisors who want him to address the threats posed by Persia and China, and so on. He is also fleecing the empire of money, at a time when money is needed most to protect the empire in light of the failure of its armed forces and technology in the face of the metal plague, and his sexual depravity (orgies, rapes, completely licentious behavior) get out as gossip and tabloid fodder, decreasing morale, making the emperor lose respect in the public eye and giving strength to the empire's enemies.
Despite his honors, accolades, moderate wealth and his governor appointment in one of the provinces, the idealistic and honorable General Black is severaly demoralized by the state of the affairs and by the tales of excess in the Imperial Palace. General Black, his wife and daughters are sent to Mars, but only General Black and his eldest daughter and advisor, Justa, go, leaving the others behind. Emperor Luke is murdered, but his successors have shorter and shorter reigns, and when General Black tries to fight the corrupt government by opposing the practices of other governors, senators, military officers and Imperial officers, his governorship in Mars is taken away, and his family on Earth are murdered by a senator before Governor Black can release any sensitive information he had. The metal plague comes to Mars, and a grieving and rage-filled General Black vows vengeance on all those who betrayed him and murdered his family. His loyal army on Mars declare him the last honorable man and the only man fit to succeed Emperor Mathias as ruler of the Pan-Polarian Empire. The self-crowned new Emperor Peter Black, with Princess Justa at his side, leads a powerful invasion by the Mars and Jupiter colonies on Earth. They still have their metal-based technology and war machinery unscathed, and that combined with Black's excellent leadership guarantees an early, brutal, and decisive victory. The Black family's enemies are slaughtered, as are many others, and briefly Black and Justa are rulers of the empire - but the progression of the metal plague runs unchecked, destroying the machines of the Martian and Jupiter armies, until nothing is left. The Pan-Polarian Empire breaks up over in a flurry of pre-industrial, primitive infighting over the next few decades, separating into independent, primitive states. General Black and his daughter finally leave Italy and settle down in Holland, to live out their days peacefully and without any of their former power. Black dies, and Justa marries a civilian lawyer and starts a family of her own, anonymous and under-the-radar for the rest of her life.
Best part of story, including ending:
Amazing world-building, really great idea.
Best scene in story:
It's hard to say because it was narrated like a chronicle, but I'd have to say the moment when General Black's troops declare for him. It's a stirring, rousing moment as this man's family has just been killed.
Opinion about the main character:
I think Justa could have been more than just an observer and narrator of things going on around her. Felt unsatisfying and like a missed opportunity.