The book opens like a cracked mirror to our modern society, but it’s not quite a dystopia. The key twist in the book is so good I will resist the urge to signal it, but there are many twists in the book, moving across a terrain which takes on any number of possible futures displayed simultaneously, with humour, precision, and a poetic grace so smooth it’s easy to glide over its surface on a first reading.
Like the best sci fi writers, Bell doesn’t hesitate to draw out the parallels between her futuristic world and our own, using the imaginary to highlight the all-too-real. What is also obvious is that there are some aspects of life that are core to happiness, no matter the context: love, empathy, and care.
Paolini has successfully crossed-over into the sci fi realm and it’s obvious he’s done his physics homework, utilising existing science and scientific theories in a way that would make Arthur C Clark proud. The work displays a great deal of creative ingenuity, with well-developed and interesting aliens (who are neither like ET nor like super-humans), witty spacecraft banter, all sorts of fun technologies, a super fast-paced plot line that is deeply engaging—this is an easy-read— and description that is often poetic, charged by an obvious love of astronomy.
A Superior Spectre is deftly constructed piece of literature. It sits shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greats. Thematically it is a worthy companion-piece to Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve. Structurally it folds like the origami of Italio Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, and Jennifer Egan’s The Keep. Stylistically it employs some of the fuzzy voice of China Mieville’s This Census Taker, where the who and when of the narrator becomes blended and circular.
In Ivory, Goldstein has created a place that exists only on its own terms. There is no bridge or overlap; Ivy’s different lives exist side by side. She moves from one to the other with little effort because no effort is necessary. Ivy is able to deal with the chaos that comes with the talent attractive to a muse.
Callie’s character is very insightful and from her perspective in the book, she describes the world with similes and personifications, creating and painting beautiful or terrible images. It shows the world in all its beauty and horror through the words on a page, but seems so much more than that.
The books really triumph, though, in creating a counter-history which fuses the technocratic mastery of the Nevermind agents with a tradition of anti-rationalism, spiritualism and exoticism that runs through the project of western modernity, a swampy seam of conspiracy theories, UFOs, Spiritualism, Theosophy, and pseudo-science.
One of the things that worked really well in Throne of Glass was the change of perspectives of characters. One minute I was reading about Celaena’s perspective of a fight she’s in, and then the next paragraph would swap to Dorian’s view of the fight. This helped the reader engage more deeply with the characters and created a better understanding of the bonds between characters and the way each character is feeling about each other during these moments.
At a deeper level, there are questions raised about the nature of reality that are chillingly relevant considering the fact that last year Elon Musk stated publically that there is a billion to one chance that we’re living in “base reality” (that is, a non-virtual world), and even Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that there is a high probability that we’re living a computer simulation.
Obviously Robin Gregory is a well-read writer. Not only does she mimic Homer’s “wine dark sea” with the novel’s opening of “dories…and spider crabs flood[ing] the beach like a ghostly pink tide,” but also refers back to great YA series like A Series of Unfortunate Events through her grim imaginativeness. Gritty magical realism is in vogue, if we account for the non-YA St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell and Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi beside which The Improbable Wonders holds its own.