Like, don’t be fooled by the gorgeous cover and the sassy blurb on the back cover, or even the simplicity and witty intrigue of the prose if you happen to glance at the first page. This book is HELLA CONFUSING. But, like, in a super interesting and entertaining way? That I can’t really explain?
This is not a book for the casual sci-fi reader, first of all. If you like heist stories and stories about con men, you will probably have an okay time, but so much of the story and world is built on freaky deaky sci-fi that is so cutting edge and ahead of it’s time, it’s hard to get a handle on, even with help.
About thirty pages in, I actually gave in and spoiled the hell out of myself just so I could feel more comfortable in the world Rajaniemi created. I’d been warned ahead of time that everything does become clear by the end of the book, that all the pieces fall into place, but since there is absolutely NO exposition to be found in this book, some of the key concepts of the worldbuilding aren’t even revealed until about 75% of the way through. I figured it would be a fine trade-off to be spoiled if I could know ahead of time what was actually going on, and I was right.
I know this is not how most people will want to experience this book.
For those people, I recommend pushing through. And honestly, I could have done it. Rajaniemi’s prose and his characters and the way he writes the book is SO readable, even if you’re not sure what’s going on. It’s like, who cares! I’m having fun! It’s honestly so bizarre how he can do that.
Jean le Flambeur is a great character, and even though it’s a bit hard to find the emotional core of the stories at first because Rajaniemi is busy flinging you head first into zany sci-fi hijinks, it is there, and by the end, the part of me that craves emotional connection to stories was satisfied.
I really can’t say any more about this without spoiling it. I mean, the book starts with Jean getting busted out of this prison where he’s been forced to take part in a literal version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and then suddenly we’re on Mars, and there’s this weird thing with privacy and immortality and I JUST CAN’T EVEN.
It’s also one of those rare books that can be read shallowly for fun, but if you stop to think about it on a deeper level, a whole mess of crap spills out. Stuff about identity and the panopticon and surveillance. Hannu Rajaniemi is an incredibly smart dude (which he wrote in his SECOND language).
Bottom line: this isn’t a book for everyone, but if you like science fiction a lot, you definitely need to read this. Just know once you start it, you need to either spoil yourself like I did, or commit to finishing. This is not a book designed to DNF. You’re missing the whole point if you do.
I’m not sure when I will get to the second and third books in the series. I hope by the time I do, they’ve released them in mass market paperback, otherwise my books aren’t going to match each other and it will drive me insane when I look at them.