Bingo square: Award Winner. It won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, 2017 and Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel.
In the distant future, war is a thing of the past. A utopia, fast car transport has meant countries are no longer boundaries. You can live in Italy and work in the US and go to school in Australia. People no longer belong to nations but Hives, chosen for their best fit to personality and beliefs. Nor do nuclear families exist, instead you belong to a bash’ of your making, put together with college friends and romantic partners and some relatives. The world is in balance, and the main leaders work together to keep it so.
The narrator of this epic is Mycroft Canner, a convict who serves his time by servicing the community, called upon to do tasks that will benefit society. He’s chronicling a world on the brink of a revolution, one others are trying to prevent. And he has several secrets of his own. One of those is a teenage boy named Bridger, who can wish anything into existence. How will such a gift impact this world?
This isn’t a great synopsis as it’s one of the hardest books to condense the plot of that I’ve ever read. It’s actually unlike anything I’ve ever read. Palmer is obviously incredibly smart, she’s a history professor, and a lot of that knowledge can be seen in the book. She’s also an exceptional writer, and in the beginning I really loved the book and Mycroft’s voice. But as it went on I started to enjoy it less. Because there’s just SO MUCH going on. You have to figure out the workings on this strange world and how it all fits, and I wasn’t always able to to so, especially when it came to the leaders and main players. A lot of them have different titles and nicknames and since I couldn’t keep them straight I just kept zoning out. The book blurb makes it seem like Bridger is vitally important to the plot (and I’m sure he is) but he’s in the beginning and then mostly disappears until the end while all the rest of the plot threads are picked up and run with. I guess he’ll be back in the later installments. And that’s another issue. This book is large, and there are two more in the series (and maybe a third?). Nothing is wrapped up by the end of this one, it’s definitely one long tale you need to be all in for, and I’m not sure I am.
There’s a lot of our history and philosophy that have a significant impact on the story and I think if you have more of a background in either/both than I do you’ll get a lot more out of this. I struggled too with its back and forth on gender. In this future gender doesn’t exist – officially. Everyone is ‘they’. That’s fine. Except Mycroft breaks these rules by referring to ‘he’ and ‘she’. Again, that would be straightforward enough, but then Mycroft will refer to someone as ‘he’ but then go into detail about how really they should be a ‘she’ and describe lots of feminine attributes and contradict themselves. I couldn’t see what purpose it served, other than to confuse me, and made it impossible to hold a picture of anyone in my head. This didn’t help with trying to keep everyone’s Hive/job title straight either.
There are lots of asides to the reader and ‘fourth wall’ breaking, which initially I enjoyed but again it grated as time went on. Mycroft is a typical unreliable narrator and other characters will pop up now and then to fill in blanks or add corrections (and, thankfully, translate reams of Latin), which again made it hard for me to be fully engaged by the story. When we do find out about their past it’s pretty jarring and graphically described, and it did feel a bit out of place with the rest of the book.
I am not sure if I will plug on with the rest of the series. There isn’t anyone I am particularly attached to and I don’t feel the need to know how it all plays out. The world building is phenomenal and the writing is accomplished but I found it more exhausting toward the end than engaging.