Buddy read with the ever supporting Seán.
This was a hard book to read, and it’s even harder to review (which is only suiting, I guess).
I must confess, dear reader of this review, that I was absolutely not prepared for this book. Too like the lightning weaves a tale of political intrigue, mystery, religion and sex, set in a world in the distant future, that could very well be a logical evolution of our own, based on principles from the 18th century enlightenment era.
This definitely is not a light or easy/lazy read. It actually takes a lot of wrapping your head around things. Apart from the large number of characters (with difficult names) and the complex worldbuilding, there’s also the philosophy to contend with.
This novel relies heavy on the great works of the masters of the enlightenment (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Sade), and I guess, dear reader, that if you were familiar with their works, you would enjoy this even more than I already did. For you see, Ada Palmer uses the principles from these masterworks to build her world, but at the same time, opens up a philosophical debate about their merits and their flaws. This happens both by showing, in stead of telling, the consequences these principles can have when applied on an international scale, as well as the narrator actively discussing them with the reader. This novel actively forces you to think about, and even take a stance on, gender(bias), sex, religion and society. All the hot issues of the modern world.
If you take a look at my update notes, you’ll notice that I have gotten increasingly frustrated with parts of the writing, mainly the narrator, and it has taken me over half the novel to see where it was all heading, and in the end, I can only conclude that it was an absolute requirement for the the story. The writing is gorgeous, and the style, though foreign to me, holds an intricate beauty and a natural flow, that fits really well with the story.
Ada Palmer is deliberately vague and confusing regarding the characters we see on stage. She sketches them in broad strokes, without adding to much detail. It certainly doesn’t help that you usually have no idea whether a character is male of female (in my mind, they were all blobs). That’s not to say that you probably couldn’t determine the persons sex AND gender from the narrative, but I found it too much work in between trying to follow the rest of the story. I really must re-read this, as I can tell that things would make so much more sense the second time around.
For the first half of the book, this was looking like maybe a 2-3-star review. Despite my frustrations, I can honestly say that I never thought about quitting. Despite the fact that it’s really hard to keep track of everything I was always eager to read on. Around the 60% mark, there are some revelations which instantly transformed this to a 3-4 star review. Everything suddenly made so much sense. It wasn’t until the last few chapters that the actual scope of this story becomes apparent. It was only then that I realized that this was only half the story.
The revelations from the last 3-4 chapters changed my outlook so significantly, that I have to review my rating again and give this a solid 5 stars.
(Mind you, I do think the book should come with a disclaimer, because it’s easy to see this is not for everyone.)
The story continues in Seven Surrenders…