Bingo: They she he (the author uses they/them pronouns, though there appear to be only cis characters in this book)
I can’t remember why I decided to buy this book. It’s dystopian, which used to be my favorite genre, but after three years of running a dystopian/post-apocalyptic book club, it doesn’t interest me much anymore. The premise of this book is somewhat interesting, though.
The setting is an area that consists of four relatively small colonies. Of course there is a totalitarian regime in place, and while life seems ok on the surface, the citizens don’t have much freedom. But the biggest problem is that inhabitants of the colonies have to label and name everything around them regularly, otherwise those objects, structures and people turn into goo that can dissolve everything around them. Vanja, an information assistant from Essre, is sent to Amatka, one of the four colonies, to gather data for the company she works for. Soon, she is drawn into the resistance, but she also falls in love with a loyal citizen.
The good: I loved that Tidbeck did not use the standard exposition you often see in dystopian fiction, where one character explains to another what is so bad about this world, in a hamfisted way. Instead, they let the reader figure it out on their own. Honestly, it was a refreshing approach. The characters were great as well, though I would have loved to get to know them a bit better.
The bad/ugly: the ending was absolutely bizarre… until you read the acknowledgements, where she thanks Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. Without giving away too much, I can see where the Vandermeer inspiration came from. But, while I’m a fan of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, I didn’t feel like Tidbeck’s approach worked here. The first 4/5 of the novel feels like one story, the last 1/5 like a wholly different one, not unlike Stephen King’s It.