"In the previous Canopus novel, Doris Lessing has proffered her extraordinarily powerful vision of humankind by combining historical analogy and allegory, myth and augury. With this new volume, in the tradition of Voltaire and Swift, she adds social and political satire to her armory.
This fifth book brings us to the Volyen Empire - small, in rapid decline, and a vortex of chaos - as the empires of Sirius and Shammat vie for its control with their favorite weapons, rhetoric and false sentiment. Canopus, alone in its knowledge of the unchangeable nature of history and, thus, of the outcome of this struggle, keeps agents on hand to covertly help the Volyens survive the turmoil. But there are unseasoned Canopean agents in Volyen who prove to be less than impervious to the temptations at hand. Incent, a young agent of some promise, succumbs to a "stubborn condition of Undulant Rhetoric" after years of sporadic attacks of simple Rhetoric. Agent Klorathy is sent to Volyen to supervise him and make sure that he eventually realizes the madness and hollow promise of the words that now have him hypnotized.
The book is comprised of Klorathy's reports to his superior, and, though Klorathy himself has occasional bouts of "Shammatis" (his stays in "Restorative Detention" always bring him around), his largely disinterested account of Incent's rhetoric-induced delusion, and of the Volyens' rhetoric-induced downfall, allows us to see how man can be seduced by his own "sentimentality" - his love of grand ideas which signify little but the sound of the words that announce them - and gives us, as well, a high-spirited and farcical treatment of everything from petty bureaucracy to the next great food source: Rocknosh.
Documents Relating to the Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire is an indictment of the ways in which man misuses his powers of speech (and the power of speeches) and of this self-flattering sentiments about emotion. But the indictment is tempered - and enhanced - by the brilliantly acute insight into human behavior that Doris Lessing brings to all her work, and by a broad humor that adds a new dimension to her Canopus series."