The first book in an SF series. Which isn’t mentioned on the book, by the way.
Publication year: 2016
Page count: 432
This book is very difficult to review and it wasn’t an easy read, either. It’s complex, very wordy, full of interesting ideas, and frustrating. Mostly it’s written in first person in a deliberately archaic manner by an unreliable narrator who keeps secrets from the reader and more than occasionally addresses the reader directly. It’s also not just influenced by great philosophical and theological thinker but their ideas are talked about in the book, at length. If those are to your taste, you might want to pick it up.
The reader is dropped in the middle of things at first without explanation. But later things are explained, perhaps more than absolutely necessary. The main POV character is a Mycroft Canner, a convict who is now a Servicer, doing penance for his crimes by owning nothing and giving service. In his case, he knows the most important people in this society and while serving them, he gets mixed up in their business, of course. These people aren’t very likable but I guess powerful people rarely are.
The most fascinating, and best, part of the book to me is the society. It’s set in 25th century, during a time when the people of Earth (and on the Moon, yay!) no longer have nation-states. Instead, they have Hives, classes based on what they’re interested in. For example, the Cousins are the care-takers of people. If that’s your passion, you can join the Cousins, no matter where you live. The Utopians are the most advanced scientists who are currently mostly occupied trying to travel to Mars. The Masons, the biggest Hive, are the lawyers and administrators. There are also the Hiveless. Each Hive follows their own laws but there are some laws which are universal. Each Hive also has a different method to choose their leaders. For example, the Masons have an emperor who chooses his follower but the Cousins have a democracy, and the Humanists can vote for anyone they want, not just a guy from a premade list. (Somewhat disappointingly to me, they still choose to vote most for the rich, handsome celebrity who is voted into office time and again.)
Following the great violence in the Church War, organized religions is illegal and even talking about religious ideas in groups of more than three is illegal. However, each person is assigned a sensayer, a priest and a philosopher, with whom they can talk about religious ideas. Sensayer is trained to know all religions, history, and philosophy. Also, biological sexuality has been suppressed. Even though English is still the universal language (but not the only one, people speak French, Japanese, Latin, and other languages) he and she are forbidden because they are too sexually titillating and explicit. So, they is used as a singular. Except that Mycroft uses he and she because he uses archaic language. But he doesn’t use them as a biological differentiator but according to the female and male personality traits of the person he’s describing. Clothing it also gender neutral. Fascinating stuff! (and yeah, I’m a Finn and we don’t use gendered pronouns so it’s not a new idea to me but very interesting to see in English which is so very centered on gender. What about languages with female, male, and neuter pronoun? Would the neuter be used there?)
Oh, the plot. We are introduced to Bridger, a 13-year-old boy who can make things come alive with a touch. More a fantasy concept than scifi. Mycroft and some of his friends are trying very hard to keep Bridger a secret from everyone else and especially from the very powerful people. Also, there’s a burglary which involves a list of names and that becomes more and more important.
I also loved the concept of bash’ which has substituted a family. Essentially, it’s a group of people (usually 2-8 adults) living together and kids are raised in these bash’es. But the adults aren’t all necessarily involved with each other – they can be just very good friends or even siblings. But they could be parents and grandparents, too. Oh, and people from different Hives can live in the same bash’.
Unfortunately, no book is without some flaws. This one felt too long and I wasn’t really interested in all of revelations, especially later in the book. And the setting is much more interesting that the plots. It also doesn’t have a proper ending, just an end.