Yakoub was once the legendary king of the Rom, the Gypsy race that has evolved from the days of caravans into lords of the spaceways - the only pilots capable of steering ships safely between the many worlds of the galaxy. Weary and proud, Yakoub has relinquished his power and lives in exile on a distant, icy world. In his absence, chaos fills the vacuum of power. The fate of the entire galactic empire hangs in the balance. Yakoub must journey across the cosmos and fight to regain his throne. Only then can he fulfill his dream: to return his people to their ancestral home of Romany Star. The Rom need the Yakoub of legend once more. Can the once-mighty king overcome time and tyranny and inspire his people in their darkest hour?
Robert Silverberg's Star of Gypsies is a tough listen to categorize. While ostensibly sci-fi, the minimal effort to even point to some plausible basis for the concepts put forth is an affront to the listener. The basic premise is that "gypsies" of earth actually derive from a humanoid species from a distant star (Romany), but were forced to leave when their sun expanded. They settled on Earth, built Atlantis, which was eventually destroyed along with all their technology, becoming what we regard as modern day gypsies. When space travel evolved, gypsies reasserted themselves due to a genetic ability to pilot faster than light drive.
The ploy concerns the king of the gypsies who has abdicated his throne to live in isolation. The first half is consumed with his regaling of past tales of his life that reveals a narcissistic streak. He claims to have a master plan that included his pseudo-abdication, but never actually expounds on this. He is thrown back into the game when his screwed-up son takes over. He returns and does little, but sit around while the rest of the galactic empire is thrown into chaos with the death of the 15th emperor causing civil war among the rival factions. In the end, he has to do nothing to save the day.
The sci-fi elements are poorly developed. No explanation for the basis for FTL drive, other than blue light is put forth. People can clone themselves into doppelgangers, but they wear out. Gypsies can "ghost" which is some sort of mental physical and time (only backwards) traveling ability. Everyone is on the honor system to not reveal the future to the past, but everyone seems to try nevertheless. The political and economic structures of society are ignored to the extreme which renders actions and events shallow and arcane.
The narration saves the tale. Stefan Rudnicki is one of the grandmasters of audiobooks. His booming baritone is perfect for the self-absorbed king. The range of voices is superb and the tone and mood are well aligned with the plot.
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