The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

The Three-Body ProblemTitle: The Three-Body Problem
Author: Liu Cixin
Translation: Ken Liu
Series: Three Body #1
Published: 14 October 2014 (originally published in China in 2008)
Publisher: Tor Books
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Genre: science fiction
Rating: 7/10

In 1967, during China’s Cultural Revolution, Ye Wenjie sees her father, a physics professor, beaten to death for teaching the ideologically unacceptable theory of relativity. It’s a time of catastrophic anti-intelluctualism, when any academic considered too bourgeois and reactionary (i.e. most academics) is persecuted and killed. Ye Wenjie is an astrophysicist herself, but is forced to abandon her studies. Because of her father she is considered ideologically suspect, and when she is betrayed by a cowardly rebel, she ends up in jail awaiting death. She is saved only by a second form of imprisonment – the opportunity to work at project Red Coast, a top-secret scientific facility conducting SETI research. Ye’s work in astrophysics caught their attention, and her skills have become particularly useful since China started systematically executing its brightest minds. Ye expects nothing but a quiet life and death at Red Coast, but instead she finds something to change the world – communication from an alien race.

In the present day, nanomaterials researcher Wang Miao notices a disturbing phenomenon on the photos he takes – each of them has a sequence of numbers, counting down. Soon he starts to see it imprinted on his vision, and no matter what he tries he cannot figure out how this could be possible. His investigations lead him to an organisation called The Frontiers of Science and a game called Three Body. In the game, an alien world is besieged by unpredictable cataclysms and apocalypses. Various characters in the game – leaders, philosophers and scientists from Chinese and European history – try to come up with theories for predicting the next cataclysm or apocalypse, but these always fail. To beat the game, the player needs to solve the three-body problem, which Wang eventually realises is a mathematical problem.

All this is connected to the strange phenomena he experienced, the mysterious deaths of scientists, and the way scientific research has been losing credibility in the world at large. And it all comes back to Ye Wenjie, and her actions at Red Coast.

The Three-Body Problem was a particularly challenging novel for me to read and review. Firstly, it’s hard sf, which I seldom read because the science just goes way over my head. Secondly, the novel is partly set during the Cultural Revolution in China, which holds great importance for the story as a whole. And… yeah, I don’t know much about that either. Add to this multiple plotlines, some of which are non-linear and one of which takes place in the surreal world of a complex computer game, and what you’ve got is a book best read at a desk in the morning with a few cups of coffee, not relaxing in the evening with a glass of wine.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy The Three-Body Problem. I requested a review copy because I was curious, and although it was tough, it was worthwhile. I wouldn’t be able to tell you much about the science in the novel, but I found Liu’s depiction of the intellectual milieu of the Cultural Revolution unforgettable. China is described as a place where “any idea that dared to take flight would only crash back to the ground. The gravity of reality is too strong.” The Revolution is both wildly ambitious and severely limiting and destructive. It’s hard to fathom how absurdly restrictive life under that regime must have been. One of the scenes I found most memorable is when Ye Wenjie asks her supervisor to authorise an experiment that involves firing a radio beam at the sun. Her supervisor immediately rejects her request – the sun is a political symbol, and firing a beam at it could be interpreted in a negative way that would create a political disaster for everyone involved. Absurd as everyone knows this to be, it’s become such a fundamental part of their lives that Ye isn’t even shocked or angry at her supervisor’s decision; instead, she can’t believe she didn’t think of the symbolism herself.

This sociopolitical landscape is crucial to the story because the Cultural Revolution leaves many characters feeling disgusted with humanity. Ye Wenjie witnesses the death of her father; works for a company that chops down beautiful, ancient forests for lumber; is betrayed by a friend, her sister and her mother; and is jailed, nearly killed and eventually forced to work at Red Coast, all in service of the Cultural Revolution. Her experiences define her perspective of humanity:

Is it possible that the relationship between humanity and evil is similar to the relationship between the ocean and an iceberg floating on its surface? Both the ocean and the iceberg are made of the same material. That the iceberg seems separate is only because it is in a different form. In reality, it is but a part of the vast ocean.… It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race. This thought determined the entire direction of Ye’s life.

This, in turn, drives the plot. Many people feel the way Ye does, and what they want is for a superior alien race to take over and force change up on the world. Exactly what action they think the aliens should take is a divisive topic of debate.

It’s a very bleak notion – this idea that humanity is a lost cause if left to its own devices. But I’m not al that optimistic about humanity myself, and in reading the novel, it’s easy to understand how people have come to feel that way. Also, the novel doesn’t push that perspective as the truth – it’s a meditation on morality and human nature, constantly grappling with the questions it raises. As a novel about science and philosophy, The Three-Body Problem is an exceptional piece of fiction. Liu does a really amazing job of tying all the elements of the novel together – the Cultural Revolution, the game Three Body, mathematics, physics, first contact, environmental destruction, etc.

The novel does have its shortcomings however, and its weakest point is its characters. Most of them feel flat, moving mechanically through the story with little to bring them to life. It makes sense in a few cases – some characters are just simulations in the Three Body game, and there’s a fairly long section that doesn’t use any named characters at all, like a fable, focusing only on plot. But readers might struggle in the absence of strong characters to connect with, and  it really doesn’t help that Wang Miao, one of the protagonists, is terribly bland and forgettable.

There’s not much to say about him except that he works in nanomaterials and gets caught up in the story because of his scientific education and mindset. At the start, we’re told that he’s an avid amateur photographer, but this is just a plot device that gets discarded after serving its purpose. The same goes for his family, who seem completely pointless from the start. He has a wife and son who both express alarm at Wang’s strange behaviour when he starts freaking out about the countdown, but then they disappear from the plot and Wang doesn’t give them a second thought. It’s particularly odd given that he’s always doing things that would affect his family – he buys a virtual reality suit and spends hours playing Three Body; he skips work; he stays out late investigating the mysteries he encounters; he gets tangled up in a global conspiracy; he finds himself in real danger; he travels to another continent. All this, and not a word about his wife and son. Why write them only to drop them completely?

It’s no surprise, then, that Wang’s part of the story tends to be pretty boring, and the novel as a whole takes a long time to get its main story going with Ye Wenjie. Ye at least is a more exciting, memorable character, given that her experiences are far more dire and her ideas and actions set the story in motion (while Wang just runs around gathering info). Still, she comes across as cold, perhaps because she’s a scientist. In fact most of the characters are scientists or mathematicians, and it’s worth noting that the only other character I found memorable was a police detective – a big, boisterous man named Shi Qiang, nicknamed Da Shi (Big Shi).

So yeah, not an easy read – the content can be complex, the pace slow, and the characters hard to connect with. The one advantage of this is that when the plot eventually gets to its most dramatic moments, it’s incredible to read – bold, exhilarating, thought-provoking stuff. Although there were times during this book that I thought I’d made a huge mistake requesting a review copy, by the end I was very curious about how things are going to turn out for the human race in the second and third books. I don’t know if I’ll keep reviewing the series (feeling a bit out of my depth here), but I would like to keep reading.

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Dark Windows by Louis Greenberg

Dark_WindowsTitle: Dark Windows
Author: Louis Greenberg
Published: April 2014
Publisher: Umuzi
Source: ARC from the publisher
Genre: literary fiction, speculative fiction
Rating: 7/10

It’s apt that I finished this review on the day of South Africa’s general elections: Dark Windows is based on a fantasy of a political party that makes our country’s dreams come true. In an alternative South Africa, the Gaia Peace party has been in power for the past ten years. Somehow, its combination of New Age beliefs and social welfare policies have ‘cured’ crime. Johannesburg, previously known as one of the world’s most dangerous cities, is now peaceful and safe.

Unfortunately it all seems too good to last. Not everyone buys into Gaia Peace’s happy hippie miracle and Joburg is growing restless with the threat of violence. At the same time, Minister of Wellness Meg Hewitt is quietly setting Project Dark Windows in motion to prepare for some mystical, world-changing event. Something momentous is about to happen, but no one knows what’s coming. Is it aliens? The apocalypse? A new age of enlightenment? Or just social upheaval?

Kenneth Lang has spent 35 years working in government, from the apartheid regime through the ANC years to Gaia Peace. He holds a vaguely titled but senior position and specialises in strange, unofficial operations, so Meg Hewitt instructs him to handle Project Dark Windows. The requirements are simple and specific: Find five rooms, within a target area, that have been left vacant after the death of the occupant. Clean the windows and paint them black. Set up motion and heat detectors, then lock up. Lang has no idea what the point is, but he complies partly because he’s intrigued and partly because his job has taught him to shut up and follow orders.

Lang hires Jay Rowan, who’s been doing weird, sporadic jobs for him since the 90s. Jay is reliable and discreet, but after having his life fall apart over the past year, he also wants to “show he’s good for something, even if it’s obscure and vaguely ridiculous government work”.

The best thing in Jay’s life at the moment is his affair with a married woman named Beth. He takes her to one of the Dark Windows’ sites, where they learn about the supposed suicides of the two girls who lived there. Beth is moved by the girls’ stories and endeavours to learn more. Her investigation leads her to a suspicious student protest group while reminding her of the dark secrets of her past. Political stories intertwine with personal ones, and Joburg moves slowly toward an unknown possibility.

You might think that the idea of a New Age political party called Gaia Peace is as absurd as I did, but I think that’s the point. Many of the characters feel that way too. In fact, none of them – with the possible exception of the President – can really take the New Age stuff seriously, although most play along. No one is sure exactly how a party like Gaia Peace succeeded in a country like South Africa.

The very idea really is ludicrous partly because it’s so kooky (with the herbal tea and healing colours) and partly because the majority of South Africans are just too conservative. For example, the president in Dark Windows is a black lesbian in a interracial marriage. I can’t imagine how that could possibly happen given that our current, democratically elected president is a barely-educated traditionalist who doesn’t seem to know about the women’s and gay rights in our constitution. Despite his blatant corruption, people still support him because he’s ANC, but most would never support a gay woman.

Gaia Peace’s policies also include security reduction – most of the locks, gates and alarm systems that South Africans would consider essential to their safety are now illegal. Again, it seems impossible that our society could give this up, although in this case there are people railing against it:

These protesters were once children who slept safely knowing their daddy owned a gun. They want their talismans back; they need the comforting confinement of battle lines.

How did a bunch of “hippie activists” do it? Lang works in the presidency and he doesn’t even understand it.

What’s stopping people, is what he wants to know. Even if it’s true that all their basic needs are seen to, do people just stop being greedy; do they just stop wanting quick and easy gains? Surely greed – our instinctive urge to stockpile – is far more hardwired into the human psyche than social harmony? Has humanity really evolved so much in the past few years?

It looks like they have, but it’s still hard to believe the evidence. A student protest group called Out of Our Minds suggests that it’s all mind control. The words “miracle” and “hoax” are often used. Some people seem opposed to the party just because they can’t believe what it’s achieved. It’s “hard for disillusioned people to buy new illusions”, as Jay suggests. The novel doesn’t offer a satisfying explanation; what’s more important is the way people feel about it, and what it means in this context.

I think the absurdity of a New Age party revolutionising our political landscape reflects a sad truth about South Africans – we’re so disillusioned that the idea of a truly progressive government that minimises crime, corruption and nepotism, while providing quality education and healthcare for all is just ridiculous. If you believe that one of our political parties will deliver this then you might as well believe in colour therapy and Reiki too.

Then again, perhaps belief is all you need, and this is another important issue that Gaia Peace raises. As I said, no one seems to believe in any of the New Age stuff, but lots of people are happy to play along because it works. “[T]hings sure as shit could be better, but they sure as shit have been worse” is the refrain. It’s also just kind of nice and inoffensive. In one of the earlier scenes, Jay goes for the hot-rock therapy that he receives as part of his probation after getting into a drunk driving accident. He considers the idea that it’s abusive somehow, with the state asserting control over his body, but he’s warm and comfortable so what is there to complain about really?

But there are problems. Gaia Peace isn’t perfect, or can’t be perfect. At least it’s not the dystopian scenario you might expect – Gaia Peace doesn’t have a sinister side that enabled their rise to power. They’re exactly what they say they are. As Greenberg states in a guest post for Lauren Beukes about his inspiration for the book, it’s “not a dystopian novel but rather a vision of utopia rubbing up against reality”. Reality is human nature. Reality is a country with a long history of violence. Reality is the people who can’t forget being victims of violent crime. Jay is one of them. He likes Gaia Peace, but when his wife was sexually assaulted in their home, violent crime had become a kind of political blind spot. Her trauma was “made invisible”. “How do you achieve justice for something that didn’t officially happen?” Jay asks, with no hope of an answer.

Jay’s concerns bring me to another important point about the novel – despite the political framework, it’s very personal. All the major characters are grappling with their own issues. Jay looks to Beth for comfort and escape. When he stands silent in the darkness of the rooms he’s painted, he likens it to Beth and imagines her as a warm, dark space where he can hide from the world. Beth on the other hand enjoys the affair for its sinful passion – a way of escaping her unfulfilling marriage to a boring, strictly Catholic man. She thought adopting his religion would help her find some kind of meaning, but it hasn’t. Now, what she wants is for Jay to “clarify” her. She’s also seeking some kind of atonement for an event in her past, which is primarily why she takes such an interest in the suicides of the teenage girls.

Kenneth Lang is coming to the end of a career that is partly responsible for his failed marriage and his awkward relationship with his teenage daughter, Melanie. When Melanie ends up in hospital after a drug overdose, he finds himself pulled back and forth between work and the hospital, struggling to function effectively in either space. To a lesser extent we also see the struggles of Minister Meg Hewitt, who is also the President’s wife. As much as she loves and supports her wife, she doesn’t want to be the next ruler as the President has requested. She’s kept Project Dark Windows secret from her too. Partly because of this marital strife, Deputy President Kanyane lurks malevolently in the background, ready to assert police and military power should anything happen to the President.

Although their problems are varied, these characters are all looking for purpose and certainty where there isn’t much to be had. They want some kind of belief or understanding to hang on to, but objective truths elude them. Project Dark Windows has the same kind of personal desperation to it. It could be total bullshit, or could be epochal, but who knows what will happen? In the context of the novel, it’s just as important as the truth about the suicides, Beth’s decision to stay with Jay, or Lang’s relationship with his daughter. Greenberg’s guest post has a lovely quote about the way he’s balanced the personal and political:

I treated the politics and the love and the faith and the apocalypse in the novel with equal ambivalence. Despite my best efforts, I find it hard to draw an opinion and stick to it; the more I learn about life the less virtue I find in firm opinions and immutable beliefs.

It’s understandable then that this book never ceases to be uncertain and, at the end, offers as many unanswered questions as it does resolutions. It’s the kind of literary novel that will frustrate some spec fic readers because it’s very slow and contemplative. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I’d finished. I had to think about it for a while and go through my notes before I could even begin writing the review. That’s probably not the kind of experience you’d expect when someone says the word “apocalypse”. In fact we never find out if there will be an apocalypse, so don’t come to the novel looking for action and destruction. Instead, enjoy it for Greenberg’s very beautiful writing, his characters, and his insights into the personal side of SA politics, morality, faith, and human nature.

If you like the cover, check out my cover-reveal interview with designer Joey Hi-Fi.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The Republic of ThievesTitle: The Republic of Thieves
Author: 
Scott Lynch
Series: 
Gentleman Bastard #3
Published:
 8 October 2013
Publisher: 
Del Rey (Random House)
Genre: 
fantasy
Source: 
eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 
7/10

I just finished a 5-week long read-along for The Republic of Thieves, and I’m really glad I chose to take part because there was so much in this book that I wanted to talk about that I would have despaired of writing nothing but a review for it. Now I don’t feel so bad about having to leave out all the spoilers, although I have made some general comments about one aspect of the plot, that some might consider a mild spoiler.

At the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies Locke didn’t know for sure if he’d really been given a fatal custom-made poison. Well, he was, and now he’s dying horribly while Jean desperately searches for a cure. Unfortunately, the situation remains utterly hopeless until they get an offer of salvation from a Bondsmage named Patience. Locke and Jean have nothing but loathing for the Bondsmagi after the Falconer murdered their friends in Camorr, but without Patience’s help, Locke won’t live another day.

In exchange for curing Locke, Patience wants the two Bastards to rig an election in the Bondsmagi city of Karthain. The election itself is not important – no matter who wins the Bondsmagi will ensure that the city is run properly. What they’ve done is turn the election into what they call the Five-Year Game. The two opposing factions within the Magi support the opposing parties in the election, and every election the Magi recruit someone to rig the election in their party’s favour. The magi factions that ‘wins’ the election wins prestige, so Locke and Jean are expected to take the game very seriously, especially when considering their opponent. Because when Patience’s rivals learned who she was recruiting, they sought out the only person in the world familiar with the Bastards’ methods – Sabetha Belacoros.

Running parallel to the Five-Year Game is a flashback plot in which we finally meet Sabetha and learn her history with the Bastards, beginning with Locke’s first encounter with her at Shades’ Hill. This plot line also fills in more of the Bastards’ childhood, right up until their turbulent teens. So turbulent in fact, that Chains decides he needs a break and kicks them out. He sends them to the town of Espara to help an old friend who needs actors for his theatre troupe.

Of course, nothing about this mission is nearly as simple as the Bastards expect, and the moment they arrive in Espara they have to start running cons that require as much skill as being on stage. It’s as tense and exciting as the Karthain plot with one major drama running through both – Locke and Sabetha’s relationship.

It’s actually the main attraction in The Republic of Thieves if not the main drive of the plot. Sabetha’s absence in book 1 and even book 2 was really weird, given that she was one of the Bastards and had Locke so beguiled he never slept with anyone else after they parted. She was only mentioned as someone who grew up with them (but never appears in flashbacks), and who Jean never speaks about for the sake of sparing Locke’s feelings. The only good thing about this is that it drummed up a lot of anticipation for her appearance, which is perhaps what Lynch intended.

And… Well at first I was disappointed. Locke falls for her the instant that he sees her, when he’s only “five or six or seven years old”. But Sabetha doesn’t seem all that impressive at this point, and Locke’s infatuation is very strange for such a young child.

Later, when both Locke and Sabetha are Bastards, it bothered me that she doesn’t share the kind of camaraderie that the boys have. She doesn’t quite feel like part of the gang, and her character wasn’t as funny and upbeat. The fact that she’s the only girl obviously factors into her behaviour, but mostly it seemed awkward for Lynch to put her into the narrative now when she should have been there all along. The result was that she didn’t seem to fit into the space that had been left for her.

But I should have had more faith. As Sabetha’s character and her relationship with Locke develop we get to understand so much more, and previously incongruous details suddenly make sense. My feelings about it all kept changing, and I loved discussing these issues in the read-along. I’d side with Sabetha, then with Locke, get really upset with one or both of them, but be happy with they got things right. Locke’s feelings are driven by simple infatuation, but his younger self is impeded by his lack of knowledge about girls in general, and his lack of understanding about Sabetha in particular. Her feeling are more complex – she likes Locke but refuses to simply be charmed by him like everyone else is. She would never just fall for him; it has to be a careful choice.

I don’t normally take this much interest in a romance, but Lynch makes it intriguing, mixing it up with all the other attractions of the plot. And there are plenty. We get to see much more of the Bastards’ youth, and the nuances that went into Locke’s development as a character. Calo and Galdo are back with all their characteristic humour. Chains’s fatherly affection made me feel all warm and fuzzy, but it was also good to get a more critical perspective of Chains from Sabetha. We have another three locations to add to Lynch’s massive world: Lashain, Espara and Karthain. We learn more about the mysterious and extremely powerful Bondsmages, who will undoubtedly play a major role in future books. There are even hints of supernatural forces whatever power might have done away with the Eldren.

One thing I need to discuss in detail though, is the election. I found it unsatisfying, largely because it’s not really political. The game is mostly played with bribes, blackmailing, and a series of childish pranks and cheap tricks that Sabetha and the Bastards play (mostly on each other). Some of the pranks – like dropping snakes down a chimney to ruin a party – are presumably intended to tarnish the opposing party’s reputation, but that seems like a lousy way to win votes.

It was very entertaining, but at the end of the election our three protagonists had almost no noticeable influence on the election’s results. I don’t know if the votes would have been any different if they weren’t involved, and at the end of the day it doesn’t seem like they played the game they were recruited to play.

In Locke’s other schemes, he understood what his marks wanted and how they behaved, and used that in elaborate or at least entertaining cons. But there’s no con here, and we never find out what the Karthani want from their politician or see Locke, Jean and Sabetha use that to their advantage. I know politics is boring but Lynch could have made it interesting. The series has involved plenty of light politics already: The Secret Peace; the rise of Capa Barsavi (which led to the revenge of Capa Raza/The Grey King); the unstable politics on Emberlain on which the Austershalin Brandy scheme was based; the Archon of Tel Verrar trying to recreate the war that put him in power.

None of that was particularly complicated, nor did I find it boring to read the very long conversations or info dumps where these schemes were explained or enacted. I’m assuming that most if not all readers who made it to book three liked it as well. Why couldn’t Lynch have done something similar here? All the amusing pranks could have been part of a larger scheme, and the theatre experience from Espara could have played a role in helping them address large crowd or something. As it stands, the Espara plot has no link to the Karthain one, save Locke and Sabetha’s tumultuous romance.

I know we’re told from the beginning that the election has no real political importance, but it still feels empty, a neglected aspect of the plot. And the thing is that it’s more important as a plot device than a political event within the novel. In many ways, this book is a stepping stone to the rest of the series, and the election serves as a reason to save Locke’s life, a ways to connect the main characters to the Bondsmages, and then move them into place for upcoming events. After reading the books so closely for the read-along, I felt a lot of details were a bit thin, a bit contrived. They made perfect sense in terms of moving the narrative in a desired direction, but didn’t make that much sense for the characters or the plot.

So, out of the three books in the series so far I’d say that this is my least favourite, but even then it was still a great read packed with things I loved – the humour, characters, character development, world building, scheming. The story had me hooked throughout and there were so many little moments I was glad I could pick out and mention in the read-along. If I had to choose I’d say the Espara plot was more enjoyable than the Karthain, with proper cons and a great deal more tension and danger. That said, it can’t beat the Karthain plotline for sheer drama and amazing food (sadly the younger Bastards can’t afford decadent meals, and I’ve always liked the bizarre dishes and inventive wines in these books).

There are some devastating reveals and events in this book, and the series is making some serious progress. Already, the Austershalin Brandy scheme from book 1 feels like a lifetime away. Even thinking back to the beginning of Republic makes me feel like I’ve come on a long journey, and you can see from the ending that there’s an even longer and more dangerous one ahead. There are even more questions left unanswered than in the previous books and it’s like I can feel the series gearing up for a transition into truly epic, world-spanning plots. And it’s going to be so, so awesome.

 

For more in-depth discussions, check out my read-along answers (naturally, these will be full of spoilers):
Part 1 – prologue thru Intersect I (pages 1 – 136)
Part 2 – chapter 3 thru interlude “Bastards Abroad” (pages 136 – 292)
Part 3 – Chapter 6 thru Interlude “Aurin and Amadine”  (pages 293 – 413)
Part 4 – Chapter 8 thru chapter 10 (pages 417 – 577)
Part 5 – Interlude “Death masks” thru epilogue (pages 578- end)

Review of The White Shadow by Andrea Eames

The White Shadow by Andrea EamesTitle: The White Shadow
Author: Andrea Eames
Published: 
2 February 2012
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Genre: 
YA, literary fiction, fantasy, African fiction
Source: 
review copy courtesy of Tammy at Women24
Rating: 
5/10

It began when my father told me that every person has two shadows: a black one and a white. The white shadow mweya, is the soul and the black shadow, nyama – a word which also means ‘meat’ – is the flesh.[…]

The mweya climbs out of the body after you die, in the form of a worm. […]

The worm will crawl out and into an animal, and the animal becomes an ancestral spirit. (1)

 

It began when the second child was born to our family and my father fell in love. (3)

 

Of these two beginnings, the first emphasises the role of folklore in the narrative, but the second is more significant. The speaker is Tinashe, a young Shona boy from a rural village in 1970s Zimbabwe. When his sister is born, everyone is disappointed that she is not a boy, but his father loves her instantly and names her “Hazvinei”, meaning “it does not matter”. Tinashe himself is secretly pleased because it means he will be the only son in the house.

From the moment of her birth, Hazvinei proves to be a strange but gifted child. She doesn’t cry when she’s born, and it’s years before she speaks, although it’s clear that she’s very intelligent. She has a sharp little teeth and a tendency to bite. As she grows older, she seems to have a connection to the Shona spirit world.

Tinashe begs her not to speak about it. His parents have frequently told him to look after his sister, and he worries that she will be labelled a witch if people find out about her abilities. The two of them grow up in a dusty little village and are occasionally visited by their wealthy cousin Abel who lives in the city. Zimbabwe is fraught with political conflict as rebels fight for independence from the colonists, but for a long time the children experience this only in snippets – officious white men questioning them about guerrillas hiding out in the bush; an injured man in Tinashe’s home in the middle of the night; tense whispering among the adults.

Tinashe takes little notice and happily believes the propaganda he hears on the radio. He just wants to go to school and (if his uncle will pay the fees) attend university so that he may wear a tie to work, own a car and live in a house in the city. In the meantime his cousin Abel longs to defy his father and become a freedom fighter, while Hazvinei believes she might possess the power to save their country.

This is not a political novel, however. For the most part, it’s a portrait of a child’s life in a rural Zimbabwean village. Tinashe grows up playing with the other children in the village, swimming in the river, collecting glass bottles in order to buy cold cokes at the local shop, doing chores for his parents, watching trails of ants go about their business (that last one happens surprisingly often). Tinashe is one of the few children who goes to school regularly, even thought the teacher is simply the only man in the village to have finished high school, and the school’s tiny collection of battered text books means that lessons are frequently repeated.

Since Tinashe knows little life outside his village, he is not particularly bothered by the poverty of his existence, but it becomes apparent whenever his uncle, Babamakuru, is mentioned. Babamakuru is the symbol of wealth to the villagers – he lives in the city, he wears a tie to work, he drives a car. His home includes a legendary indoor toilet, and a refrigerator full of ice cold Cokes. Abel enjoys chicken and potatoes for supper every night, and is initially disappointed when he is given neither at Tinashe’s home. At one point, Babamakuru gives Tinashe a toy truck as a present, and Tinashe marvels over it because it is the first new, clean thing he has ever owned. Village life certainly isn’t what you’d call hygienic, and I have to say that the novel didn’t need quite so many descriptions of urination and other bodily functions.

But what I will remember most about The White Shadow is not the poverty but the culturally ordained misogyny:

Women are dangerous, I was taught. Women have a natural tendency to become witches. Everyone knows this; and witches are the only thing that can break the unbreakable line of family (2)

It’s odd – women are frequently seen as symbolic of family, but in this case they pose a danger to it, regardless of the role they play in reproduction. Men, rather, are seen as the ones who create families:

‘It is good to be a man,’ Baba [father] said. ‘We make children, and children are the greatest wealth.’

Women risk breaking families or are seen to exist outside of the family:

‘A boy makes the family stronger,’ said Baba. ‘A girl is with the family only until she marries. She is a little stranger in the house.’ (5)

Hazvinei, however, is such a wilful, strong-minded child that she defies cultural traditions. As Tinashe notes, “There were certain things girls were meant to do and certain things boys were meant to do, and Hazvinei did neither” (64). Her father also allows her to go to school, even though educating girls is considered pointless.

However, Hazvinei is in no way liberated. Her schooling is ultimately meaningless, and she remains trapped within the dangerously misogynist boundaries of her culture. She questions it, but at her peril. Tinashe’s pathetic attempts at looking after her mostly involve trying to keep her silent or well-behaved.

For the most part, it’s sad and frustrating, but every now and then it’s outright disgusting. When Hazvinei gets older, she develops a curvy figure that titillates the men who hang around the local shebeen (an informal pub/liquor store). They find it disturbing that Hazvinei neither insults nor flirts with them, but ignores them completely. Tinashe is warned that “[m]en complain of their seed spilling in the night […] Wasted on their blankets when it should go to grow children. Your sister troubles their dreams. She unmans them” (212). He is advised that girls like Hazvinei should be married because it is “dangerous for such a woman to wander alone. […] Her female essence is not guarded, nor protected. Not guided in the proper way” (211). I hadn’t been keeping track of Hazvinei’s age, so shortly after this conversation I was shocked to hear that she was only 13 at this point.

Although Tinashe is dedicated to protecting his sister, it’s a long, long time before he even begins to question the gendered beliefs he has taken for granted. He simply believes that things are the way they are. It’s no surprise then that Tinashe is not the most exciting of narrators. Although he’s three years older than Hazvinei, he almost always seems like the silly, fumbling younger brother chasing after her. He does well at school, but Hazvinei and Abel both accuse him of being stupid because he tends to be rather dim in social and emotional terms. Even the reader, trapped within his limited POV, will pick up on things before he does. He’s also annoyingly cowardly and incurious. His sister is the most interesting character in the novel, but when it comes to her abilities or ideas, he always tells her, “You must not talk about these things […] You know what they will say. You know what they call girls like you” (222). Tinashe is not incorrect in assuming that Hazvinei may endanger herself, but it’s disappointing that he doesn’t want to listen to her or learn more about her, which means that the reader can’t either.

After a while I wondered where all this was going. The answer is: nowhere. It’s not that nothing happens – there are many notable events, causes and effects – but it has the random feel of real life where things happen without an overarching plot.

Whether you enjoy this sort of thing is a matter of personal preference. I generally didn’t mind meandering along with the characters’ lives, it gets frustrating because it feels like there should be more. You keep expecting a plot to develop because Eames sows its seeds from beginning to end – the country’s political turmoil, Hazvinei’s mysterious wisdom and power, Abel’s longing to join the guerrillas, Tinashe’s dream of getting a university education and a job where he has to wear a tie.  Each of the three main characters has specific obstacles in their paths – Hazvinei faces the misogyny of her culture; Abel has to defy his father’s wishes; poverty and family tensions crush Tinashe’s hopes of an education. It really looks like it will all combine to form a story of political and social rebellion entwined with folklore and personal achievements. Instead, the building blocks crumble before anything is properly formed.

As a result the book turns out to be fairly depressing. It begins in hardship and never really rises out of that. The most hopeful thing about it is the ambiguous ending, in which optimistic readers could find a glimmer of salvation for the characters. On the downside, it leaves you feeling that the story you were waiting for is floating wordlessly beyond the pages of the book and you will never get to read it. Unless perhaps Eames writes a sequel.

Alternatively, you could read it as grim realism. The fantasy aspects of the novel are never fully confirmed, and can be rationalised as the product of belief, imagination, and Hazvinei’s unique wisdom. The meandering plot, with its lack of successes and resolutions, can be seen simply as the sad reality of a hard life.

Neither perspective is favourable. The White Shadow isn’t a particularly bad novel – it’s well-written and memorable – but I feel that it’s unnecessarily dreary and wastes its potential for a strong plot. I’d recommend it to those with an interest in African fiction, but not the merits of its story or ideas alone.

 

Buy The White Shadow at The Book Depository

Review of The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Title: The Peculiars
Author: Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Published: 1 May 2012
Publisher: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS Books
Genre: YA, adventure, steampunk, science fantasy
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 5/10

Since she was a child, Lena Mattacascar has been called Peculiar. She has unusually long hands and feet, and each of her fingers has an extra knuckle. “[S]igns of goblinism”, the doctor said, and her grandmother never hesitated to tell her what a no-good goblin criminal her father was (he left home when Lena was five). Lena tries to pass her strange appendages off as “birth defects” but she’s desperate to know the truth about her father and her own genetics.

On her 18th birthday, Lena’s mother gives her two gifts left by her father – a small inheritance, and a letter. Motivated by her father’s words to her, Lena decides to use the money to travel to Scree, the supposed land of the Peculiars. She takes a train to the town of Knob Knoster, on the border of Scree, where she will need to buy supplies and find someone to guide her through the wilderness. One man who could help her is Tobias Beasley, an inventor and historian.

However, Beasley is rumoured to be an eccentric who might be involved in strange dealings with Peculiars. A young but determined federal marshal named Thomas Saltre asks Lena to spy on him and report anything incriminating. Lena agrees, and gets a job in Beasley’s library, working alongside Jimson Quigley, a young man she met on the train. It’s a pleasant, fulfilling life, but Lena finds some suspicious things in Beasley’s home, leading her to make decisions that put the people she cares about in danger.

The Peculiars is a steampunk-ish coming-of-age novel about how difference breeds prejudice. The people who believe in Peculiars see them as sub-human, morally decrepit freaks. Scree has a dubious reputation as “the place where they send criminals. They say the forests are filled with hideous things”. “No one’s there but misfits, political enemies, and aliens”, Lena is told. It’s no surprise then, that all Peculiars are lumped together with thieves, murderers and anyone considered socially undesirable. The government uses this for political gain. Scree is rich in mineral resources, and by stating that Peculiars are non-human and playing into people’s fears and about them, the government is then able to declare Scree terra nullius – “a ‘land belonging to no one’”. It makes it easy for them to justify their actions there – stealing the land from the indigenous people and exploiting them as slave labour. It’s essentially the story of European colonialism. Scree is a metaphor for Africa or Australia, and the Peculiars represent the indigenous people of those lands.

It’s quite a while before you really see any of this in action though. The majority of the novel is set in Knob Knoster where Lena is trying to prepare for her Scree journey. As a result many reviewers have complained about the slow pace of this book. The blurb gives the impression that this is an action-adventure novel set in Scree, but in fact Lena doesn’t even get there until the last quarter of the novel. You also don’t get to see nearly as many Peculiars as you would expect – their very existence is portrayed as something of a myth for a while, although it’s obvious to the reader that they’re real.

Luckily, this didn’t bother me. I don’t trust blurbs, and in general I’m fine with slow-moving plots. I would have liked the Peculiars to play a larger part, but at least they’re intertwined with the politics and social views of the time. What really, really bothered me though, was Lena. She’s such a weak, thoughtless girl that she essentially spoiled the novel for me.

Thomas Saltre asks Lena to spy on Mr Beasley for him. In exchange he promises to provide her with a guide to Scree and since he’ll be focusing on Beasley, he’ll take his attention off Lena’s father, Saltre’s other most wanted criminal. Plus, Lena will be helping her country. Lena agrees, although there’s absolutely no good reason for her to do so at this point. She doesn’t need Saltre’s guide if Beasley will help her (which he immediately agrees to do). Saltre didn’t promise to leave her father alone, just that he would ignore him for a bit. It doesn’t even occur to Lena that Saltre could later use her to lead him straight to her father. And since when does Lena care about her country? The government is opposed to Peculiars, and she’s clearly a Peculiar.

It gets worse once she meets Beasley. She’s welcomed into his home, given a tour of his magnificent library, and invited to lunch. Beasley instantly agrees to be her Scree guide, and to help her pay for the expedition he offers her a job in his library and a place to stay in his lovely home. She accepts, and basically begins an ideal life for a young woman in her society. She has a respectable job doing fulfilling work, she has the independence that comes with making your own money, she lives in a beautiful, stately home, all meals are cooked by the housekeeper, and there’s the potential for a bit of romance with her colleague Jimson. On top of that, Beasley has offered to help her achieve her goal of travelling into Scree and finding her father. Beasley has basically given Lena everything she could want at this point. And still the stupid bitch goes running to Saltre with any information she can find to betray Beasley.

Lena actually carries around a notebook and pen just in case she learns something incriminating, and at one point she endures physical pain and great anxiety to go creeping around Beasley’s house in the middle of the night and steal one of his books. Why? Partly because she has a crush on the handsome Saltre, and partly because Lena is easily duped by authority. Saltre is a marshal, and she believes everything he says. The government says Peculiars are bad, therefore they must be bad (even though that implies that Lena is bad too, since she’s obviously Peculiar). If Beasley is breaking the law he must be stopped, even if he is good and the law is designed to exploit people. Lena is such a twit; it takes quite a while for her to think outside the lines.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the reader had more of a chance to empathise with her, if we could see things the way she seems to see them. For example, if it looked like Saltre might actually have feelings for her, or if there was something potentially sinister about Mr Beasley. But no – while she’s blindly making the wrong decisions, it’s crystal clear to the reader what’s really going on. It’s so obvious that Saltre is a villainous government agent manipulating a vulnerable young woman to get what he wants. He’s going to turn on her the moment she ceases to be useful. It’s so obvious that Mr Beasley, on the other hand, is a good, kind man, and Lena is making a colossal mistake by betraying him. I know Lena is naive, but I just couldn’t take her side when people like Jimson and Beasley are so much more likeable.

Jimson is the one who tells Lena that the government is using the Peculiars for political gain. Although he refuses to believe Peculiars exist, you know he’s right about the government. Lena is critical of Jimson for being too rational and scientific, but he usually comes off as a much smarter person in contrast to Lena’s tendency to dismiss evidence in favour of rumour, assumption, and arguments from authority. Jimson and Lena find things that cause them to be suspicious of Beasley, but Jimson takes into account the fact they’ve only ever seen Beasley act with kindness, so he suspends his judgement until they have the whole story and is careful not to do anything rash. Lena on the other hand, runs headlong into doing something rash. This puts everyone in danger, but she has the audacity to criticise Jimson for doing nothing while she took action!

The crap thing is that if it weren’t for Lena being so damn stupid and ungrateful, the story would stand still. It’s her weakness and poor decisions that jumpstart the plot and finally move it out of Knob Knoster and into Scree. It’s a much better book from that point on, but it’s only the last quarter or so. Lena still does some moronic things, but she at least seems to have learned a little from her mistakes and is able to stand up for herself. There’s more danger and adventure in Scree, and of course we learn more about the Peculiars and the government’s operations. Sadly, it’s a case of too little too late. There’s potential for a decent sequel, but The Peculiars is average at best.

Buy a copy of The Peculiars from The Book Depository

Review of Enormity by W.G. Marshall

Title: Enormity
Author: W.G. Marshall
Published: 7 February 2012
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Genre:  science fiction
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley
My Rating: 8/10

What a great book.

Many Lopes is a lonely, miserable American working a government job in Korea. He hasn’t seen his wife in two years, and she finally gives up on their long-distance relationship and leaves him. Manny chose to work in Korea partly to experience another culture, but as a dark-skinned American he tends to be treated as either a celebrity of a freak by the locals, who are fascinated (and sometimes disgusted) by black people. To add to the list of things that make Manny feel like crap, he’s a puny 5 feet 3 inches tall – a “creole shrimp” as he suggests. But that’s about to change…

Also in Korea is Fred Isaacson, a particularly loopy religious fanatic who believes it is his personal mandate to pave the way for Yahweh’s return. Apparently the Lord has chosen the Korean people as the instruments of Armageddon, so Isaacson tries to sell them some experimental quantum technology – a “Little Big Bang” contained in a metal egg. But the deal goes wrong and results in several accidental quantum explosions – one of which turns poor diminutive Manny into a 6000-foot tall colossus. Manny is so massive he doesn’t even realise what’s happened. At his size (he’s far, far bigger than the figure on the cover), humans are microscopic and the landscape looks alien. For the people on the ground however, every one of Manny’s steps causes catastrophic damage. The army does everything they can, first to stop him, but then to use him as a weapon of mass destruction. Manny isn’t really susceptible to that kind of manipulation, but the Americans gain leverage over him when a second giant is discovered – a North Korean assassin.

Enormity surprised me. The giant-man plot sounds like something out of a dodgy old sci fi movie. I figured the only way to pull this off was as a parody, and the whacky blurb seems to suggest that that’s what it is. But while Enormity does have some wonderful bits of oddball humour and is pretty bizarre in general, it’s actually fairly serious. I have to admire W.G. Marshall for taking a pulpy idea and crafting a vividly written, multi-layered and compelling novel out of it.

There’s so much to appreciate here: a glimpse into Korean culture, loads of action, good pacing and plenty of well-crafted characters. The novel shows great depth of character in Manny in particular. He’s an instantly likeable, memorable and slightly tragic figure – a generally nice guy suffering feelings of loneliness and insignificance in a culture he’s trying to explore but that inevitably alienates him. Then he becomes the extreme physical opposite of the person he’s always been, giving him a sense of power he’s never experienced. However, his power also fills him with horror and remorse – he can barely move without causing death and destruction. At the same time, he’s even lonelier than before, since the rest of the human race might as well be an alien species to him. And he knows that he’s going to die soon, because he has no sustainable source of food. Thus, Manny’s unbelievable height gives his a new perspective on life, not only physically, but existentially.

For the reader, Manny’s size also means the novel is also really, really gross at times. The human body at that scale is fucking disgusting. What looks like a layer of dirty snow on Manny’s head turns out to be dandruff. When a military team sets up a communication base inside his ear, they secure the tent in “resinous brown outcroppings of earwax”. An open sore on his forehead is described as

“a crater about twenty feet across; a grisly sump overflowing with lava-like congealing blood. Steam-heat wafted from the hole as if from a volcanic vent. Thirty-foot-tall eyebrow hairs leaned splintered and smouldering away from the breech, and sticky blood cells had been blown everywhere by the wind, resembling gelatinous red condoms.”

And then there are the bacteria from Manny’s body, which are now more like giant flesh-eating bugs:

living jellied beads like masses of frog eggs, squirming and spreading infestation with busy, burrowing tendrils. Queen could see them splitting in two, multiplying as he watched, taking over the victims’ whole bodies like a sticky caul of tapioca. Hideous, flesh-eating tapioca.

The grossness, however, is a necessary part of the story’s speculation. Marshall’s giants are very realistic and it makes sense, therefore, to have giant bacteria and strands of hair as thick as tree trunks. There are other details as well. The increased size of Manny’s brain means that nerve impulses have further to travel and thus he experiences everything much more slowly. To speak to him, speech has to be slowed down and transmitted at a low frequency; if not, it will just sound like indecipherable twittering to him. And of course the book details the catastrophic destruction Manny causes: the air around his moving body is like a powerful storm; the reverberations of his voice can blow up the aircraft shooting at him; flakes of his skin are like shrapnel. It all serves to make the idea of this giant and the story as a whole very very real for the reader.

Some might ask about the technical issue according to which something that size should be crushed under its own weight, but the novel quietly dismisses this with the excuse that “that there’s something about their molecular structure that makes them incredibly robust— it’s as if they don’t quite follow the ordinary rules of physics”. Which is perfectly acceptable to me.

Equally plausible and yet almost as shocking as the existence of such a giant are Marshall’s speculations about the political reactions to it. From the very beginning the situation is complicated by questions of who is responsible, or more importantly, who will be blamed. Once the American military finds a way of communicating with Manny, the president and his cabinet immediately start thinking about how to use him to destroy all the countries and military bases that the USA considers a threat. And of course the North Korean giant is being used in a similar manner. The reader gets to explore some of the political and social turmoil between Koreans and the Japanese, within North Korea, and between America and rest of the world, all of which forms basis for way the giants are manipulated.

There are lots more little things I could talk about, but I wouldn’t want to spoil this book for anyone. I’d put it in the hands of any sci fi fan as quirky gem of top-quality genre fiction. Enormity  is being released on 7 February by Night Shade Books. Get it.

Buy a copy of Enormity at The Book Depository


Review of The Antithesis: Book 2α by Terra Whiteman

Title: The Antithesis:  Book 2α (Two Alpha)
Author: Terra Whiteman
Published: 14 August 2011
Publisher:  1889 Labs
Genre:  genre mash-up of mythology and science fiction
Source: ebook received from author
My Rating: 7/10

Note: this review contains mild spoilers for Book 1 in the series.

In September I reviewed The Antithesis, an indie novel that put a sci fi spin on the war between heaven and hell. In this version there are angels and demons, but they’re not fantasy creatures or forces of good and evil; they’re just two species in a universe with multiple dimensions (the Multiverse). The war is not fought in physical battles; instead a more scientific approach is taken, with religion designed as part of an experiment whose results will decide the outcome of the war.

I had a lot of issues with the Antithesis, but it had a compelling story nevertheless. It also seethed with untold backstories. For example, Alezair is obsessed with Leid, plagued by the feeling that he’s met her before. Yahweh and Lucifer seem to be more like friends who are creating the illusion of being enemies. The whole war began for reasons very different from the biblical ones and is a matter of politics, not good and evil. The Antithesis itself provided little information on these and other backstories, ending instead on a cliffhanger that promised to reveal some of the history. I was curious, so I dove into Book 2α, which turned out to be a very rewarding read.

Book 2α is set 800-900 years before the events of book 1. The great war has not yet begun. In fact demons don’t exist yet and the Atrium isn’t the domain of heaven and hell but the home of beings known as the Nehel. Qaira Eltruan is Commander of the military forces in Sanctum, the Atrium’s great city. For all intents and purposes, Qaira is also the ruler, having taken on the job when his aging father could no longer perform his duties.

Qaira’s greatest concern is the decades-long conflict between his people and the Archaens – the angels. Fifty years ago their ship arrived at the Atrium after the destruction of the planet Felor. Over a million Archaens were stranded, and their commander, Lucifer Raith, begged for sanctuary in the Atrium until they could move on. Qaira’s father granted them space in the upper layers. Fifty thousand Archaen refugees set up camp but then refused to budge.

Unfortunately the Atrium is a small planet and the Archaen presence puts pressure on their limited resources. Qaira, never a gracious or tolerant person, wants the aliens dead or gone, but political considerations and the Archaen’s superior technology prevents him from taking drastic action. The two species continue to exist in an uneasy stalemate until the Nehelian Council hires a Scholar, Leid Koseling, to advise Qaira in the conflict.

Leid and Qaira can’t stand each other, but her contract requires her to stay at his side for the next decade, or until the conflict ends. They gradually warm to each other, and Leid even gives Qaira and his army a massive advantage against the Archaens.  However, combined with Qaira’s temper and his hatred for the angels, Lucifer in particular, the conflict can only end in bloodshed and destruction.

Book 2α was a better read than book 1, largely because the plot is much more focussed. Book 1 dropped the reader into the middle of a conflict that’d been raging for centuries, in a context that’s always been the domain of fantasy but which Whiteman claims for sci fi. The result is fun and interesting, but also confusing, as the reader has break away from some of the usual tropes while absorbing a lot of information. Book 2α however, is more recognisable as sf, and has a more streamlined plot, sticking to the political conflict between the Qaira and the Archaens and the blossoming romance between Qaira and Leid.

The political conflict is a tough one to call. The Archaens might have lost their home, but they also rocked up uninvited at a small planet and expected to move in. The Nehel develop a racist/xenophobic attitude toward the angels, referring to them by the derogatory term “whites” (because of the colour of their hair and wings; the Nehel are darker-haired with black wings) and making it illegal for them to move freely outside of the refugee camp. As a result the angels are forced to live in terrible conditions, to the extent that some Nehel feel sorry for them and are in favour of integrating the two societies. However, it’s not like the Nehel don’t have their own ghettos and social ills, making integration a contentious issue.

Qaira, being the person that he is, openly hates the angels and is determined to get rid of them. The first thing he does in the novel is shoot one in the head. Shortly after he makes plans for attacking the refugee camp. Qaira generally claims that he does things like this for the good of his society, but it’s not hard to see that he’s also driven by extreme prejudice and blinding hatred for Lucifer, the Archaen Commander.

It’s stated several times, in this book and the previous one, that Qaira Eltruan is a monster, and in fact he’s often the one to make that claim. While it can sound a little dramatic when this comes from Qaira himself, it’s not hard to see why he was branded as such. He’s temperamental, stubborn, violent, sexist, arrogant, vulgar and bigoted. Oh, and he’s got a drug addiction What makes this worse is that he’s got control of an entire world and his actions affect the lives of millions of people. Or, more frequently, the deaths of those of people, when his bad temper, prejudice and gargantuan ego lead him to make the most appalling political and military decisions. It’s a good thing that I found Qaira to be a compelling character, because he’s certainly not a likeable one.

Nevertheless, the novel gives you a chance to empathise with Qaira, if only for short periods before he goes back to doing something violent. You see him with his family, and although he is often rude or dismissive toward them, he clearly cares for them very much. His romance with Leid reveals a (slightly) softer side to him. Perhaps the most endearing thing about Qaira is his reluctant friendship with Yahweh Telei. In Book 1, Yahweh is ruler of the angels, and the god-figure of the religions used in the war. In Book 2α he’s still a young boy, albeit a genius who is a qualified physician, geneticist and engineer, among other things. He is captured by the Nehel and held prisoner, but Qaira can’t help respecting and even caring for him, despite the fact that he persists in referring to Yahweh as a white.

Sadly, this story is doomed to end in tragedy, based on the knowledge carried over from book 1. This lends the book a sense of gravity and sadness; you know from the start that Qaira will eventually fail and millions will die, but even though he’s such a bastard it still sucks that there won’t be a happy ending.

To learn the full extent of the tragedy however, you’ll have to read Book 2β. This novel is just the first half of the story, and it ends on a cliffhanger. Whiteman is clearly doing something right because after I finished Book 2α, I immediately bought a copy of Book 2β and started reading. Thank god for ebooks – you never have to wait for them.

Obviously, I had a really good time reading The Antithesis: Book 2α. There’s loads of action, plenty of tension, and a hot-headed narrator with an extremely dangerous temper. You get to see ‘god’ when he was just a little boy genius, and ‘the devil’ when he was ruler of the angels. The simpler structure allows you to get a much better grasp on the world Whiteman has create, preparing you for the books ahead. Admittedly, it still feels a bit unrefined, a bit… wild. As with book 1, I sometimes feel I should be more critical of the novel for some reason, but then I stop and say, who cares? It’s really fun to read.

 

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