book reviews by Althea

*** Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer

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Too Like the Lightning
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a hard one to review.

It’s a very ambitious, very complex, very intelligent novel.

However, it also tries too hard. It’s a bit too impressed with itself for being intelligent, ambitious and complex.

More than once, I just felt like sighing and saying, “Relax! Drop all the meta- stuff and just let the inherent qualities of the story shine through without pointing them out to me.” However, the book does have many good qualities, and I felt that some people would definitely appreciate its twisty, fourth-wall-breaking style more than I did.

In the world of ‘Too Like the Lightning’ criminal justice has settled on sentencing lawbreakers to service, rather than prison. Criminals are required to work at whatever tasks they are asked to do. Mycroft Canner is one of these criminals. But his situation is a bit unusual in that he works for one of the most influential families in this society. And in this society, influence is everything… Due to enhanced communications and travel technology, among other advances adding up to a post-scarcity economy, geographic nationalism is obsolete. People form families (or maybe they’re closer to communes and/or corporations) and alliances based solely on common interests and specializations. Nearly any kind of social arrangement is accepted, but in this tolerant, peaceful society, the strongest taboo is against talking about religion or any kind of ‘supernatural’ beliefs to anyone except a professional ‘sensayer’ (a kind of priest/spiritual counselor.)

The aspect of the book having to do with social dynamics reminded me quite a lot of some of William Gibson’s more recent works (and that’s a good thing!) Maybe a little bit of Iain Banks. Add in an obsession with 18th-century Europe, and hero-worship of Voltaire… it’s interesting!

Their social media publishes a list of movers and shakers, and placement on the list is a weighty matter. So, when it’s suspected that someone has stolen the unpublished list, or that it wasn’t authored by the person who’s given credit for it, the scandal could be world-shaking.

But what could be even more world-shaking is a secret held by one family, the criminal Mycroft, and the sensayer Carlyle: a young boy has been born who has the power to make anything he imagines real. Can this ability be used for good? Or is it too dangerous to reveal? Should Mycroft, who holds secrets of his own, be trusted with this knowledge, as he has been?

And then, there’re quite a few more sub-plots… some of them quite literally plots.

The reader’s perception of things is colored – perhaps warped – by Mycroft’s narration, in which he speaks directly to his audience quite frequently, is clearly holding information back, and may be rather unreliable.

Secrets abound, and this society is so deeply strange to us that’s it’s hard to tell what ‘normal’ for our characters and what’s not…

This book is the first half of a planned duology, which means that some of the more significant elements in the story aren’t tied up at the end at all, leaving it hard to predict how well it will all come together when complete.

Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

View all my reviews


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