Adrian Tchaikovsky is obsessed with non-human, non-alien sentience. This book was not what I expected, and yet, makes perfect sense in retrospect. A lot of very similar themes to the Children of Time books. This one didn’t quite fire up my imagination the way the Children of Time books did, but I quite enjoyed it!
So, not space opera (like I thought? for some reason???) but multiverse. But, a very unique take on the multiverse.
The book starts on a more intimate level, with two young women (cryptid hunters) going to look for cryptids on their vacation. One gets lost under very strange circumstances and doesn’t come back. The other tries to move on with her life, with her best friend and the love of her life missing, presumed dead. From there, we move on to several other characters who will play a part in the upcoming shitstorm.
Interspersed with POV chapters from the main characters are little interludes about other parallel earths that evolved different types of sentient life, and they go in chronological all the way from the Cambrian period to the Pleistocene (with charts!).
The character work wasn’t as deep here as it could have been, but the real show is the crisis of the multiple earths, and the meeting of different types of sentient beings. I also got a kick out of the villain and what he represented. My only complaint was that parts of the ending were so out there I had a hard time reading them as science fiction; they felt more like bizarre fantasy to me.
I do highly recommend this one, though, especially if you’re not into space opera (and why not??) but like a dose of hard science and trippy plotting.