The quality of Michael Flynn’s writing is apparent in every sentence. In the first pages of In the Lion’s Mouth, his latest novel, we get the following description of one of his central characters, Francine Thompson:
She stands by the large bay window that overlooks the endless prairie, though she herself overlooks nothing.”
By toying with the word “overlook,” Flynn gives his reader insight into his character – who is a kind of interstellar secret agent – by layering description with a nod to her constant and unerring attention to detail. This single example is significant only in what it indicates about Flynn’s writing as a whole, that he is both concerned and playful with language. What this means is that In the Lion’s Mouth, like all the novels in his Firestar series, are more nuanced than merely being adventure fiction. They contain a depth and a whimsy that makes them enjoyable to read and easy to recommend.
In the Lion’s Mouth follows The January Dancer and Up Jim River in a series that will conclude with On the Razor’s Edge. The plot is centered around “the scarred man” who makes an appearance in the frame narrative of The January Dancer (and whose identity I won’t spoil for those who have not yet read it), and the conflict between two factions of humanity that have been separated by an interstellar diaspora. In the universe Flynn has created, humanity has spread beyond the solar system into one of the Milky Way’s spiral arms. Though they have advanced technologically, however, this future civilization is still easily recognizable as human, in their petty squabbles and moments of heroism, in their mishmash of languages and their gaps in understanding, in the constant distance between what his characters say and what they believe.
Given that this is the penultimate novel in a series, a certain measure of resolution is lacking, but that is to be expected. In the Lion’s Mouth can be read without reading the previous volumes, but I would recommend beginning with The January Dancer. Especially because if I have one complaint about In the Lion’s Mouth, it is that the pre-human race, so tantalizingly hinted at in the events of The January Dancer, is all but ignored in this novel in favor of the – admittedly fascinating – clandestine civil war within an interstellar spy organization. I can only hope that they return in the conclusion, which I await with great anticipation. In the meantime, I’ll be moving on to the rest of Flynn’s work, as I’ve no doubt that his other novels and short stories are as well written and engaging as In the Lion’s Mouth.