Stars: 3.5 out of 5
That was a very unusual book. I struggle to even put it in a category. Scifi? Fantasy? Post Apocalypse? Grim dark? A little bit of both with a bunch of other stuff mixed in?
I admit that I struggled with rating this book because there are certain aspects of it that I absolutely loved, and others that I was less than thrilled about. I had to make a compromise and settle on 3.5 stars.
Let’s talk about the thing I absolutely loved – the worldbuilding. This is a gritty and unforgiving world that wasn’t created for the human race. In fact, we learn pretty early on that humans came to this world as refugees from their own dimension that was facing immediate destruction. So even though the air is mostly breathable, the water potable, and the soil can grow imported crops, most of the native plant and wildlife can kill you in dozens of imaginative albeit rather painful ways. Not to mention that what livestock and crops the refugees brought with them have slowly been dying out or mutating beyond recognition through the centuries since their arrival.
This is a harsh world and you get a distinct feeling that the human race isn’t welcome there. If fact, it’s on borrowed time. Even without failing crops and livestock dying out, less and less people are born each year. Cities that were full of people and hope for a new future when they just arrived in this world now stand abandoned. Roads and highways are crumbling because if lack of use, and great feats of architecture that had once made life easier (like aqueducts and sewerage channels) are now broken and forgotten…
This general decay and desolation is very reminiscent of some of the darker works by Glen Cook, like the Black Company series, or the Dark Tower cycle by Stephen King. There is a sense of wrongness about the land, like the world had “moved on” and left the humans behind, to slowly die out. And of course, humans being humans, they find new and imaginative ways to abuse and kill each other. Did I mention this book is dark? Very, unforgivably dark.
This is where I will need to mention the part that I didn’t like, and that’s the characters. They are all absolutely depictable horrible excuses for human beings, especially those who fancy themselves gods instead. There isn’t a single one of them that has anything that even resembles a moral compass, and the atrocities they commit seemingly in passing were so bad at times that I found myself rooting for the natives.
For me, it is rather hard to like a book when I just want to kill all of the protagonists to either put them out of their misery or to prevent them from committing any more atrocities. And in the case of the Boneman, who seems the least horrible of them all, his sin is the one of inaction. He sees the horrors his brother is committing. He saw all the horrors he committed in the past… yet he follows him nevertheless. Like fateful hound devoid of free will. Don’t’ know about you, but to me that’s a character that’s extremely annoying to read about.
I understand that the author’s idea was to show that his characters deserve the fates they will be getting and that the horrible actions they committed are counterbalanced by the harshness of their environment… Kinda like they deserve the prison they ended up with because they are all so horrible.
I can appreciate that idea, but I don’t like it. Maybe because my tolerance for pain and suffering and people behaving like absolute Neanderthals has significantly lowered during these 2 pandemic years. I want to have at least one protagonist I can root for. I am not interested in following a bunch of villains and settle for the less villainous of them surviving in the end.
But other readers might find this book right up their alley. So I would say give it a try, to discover an unusual world if nothing else.
PS: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.