I pre-ordered this book the moment I realized that one of my favorite authors (Nix) had written in one of my favorite genres (Regency). I was only mor...moreI pre-ordered this book the moment I realized that one of my favorite authors (Nix) had written in one of my favorite genres (Regency). I was only more charmed to find out that the story involved a cross-dressing girl. When we added in buccaneers, evil sorceresses, and callbacks from everything ranging from Heyer (an attributed inspiration) to Beau Geste (not attributed, but present), well, gentle review consumer, I stayed up late to read and I have no regrets.
The ironically-named Truthful is an engaging character both as a woman and a man, and her cast of supporting characters is both amusing and well-drawn. She is modest and open-eyed (except for the inevitable confusion with the romantic interest, of course). ~~"She feared her beauty was a purely local phenomenon, the result of a scarcity of young ladies of quality."~~
I really applaud Nix's efforts with costuming everyone, too. I do love the clothes descriptions: ~~"changed her rather dull travelling dress of dove grey muslin for a more fetching promenade dress of pale green with a tall collar, matched with a charming merino coat in a darker shade of green with saffron edges and silver-buttoned epaulettes, topped with a charming straw bonnet adorned with a silver ribbon."~~ It was probably a pelisse, not a coat, but what the hey, we know what he means.
The plot is heavily Maguffin-driven, but I don't mind. It is rolicking and fast-paced and although we never doubt the outcome, it's pleasant to see the way it gets worked through. Truthful gets rescued and does some quick-thinking and rescuing of her own, and so she never feels like a damsel in distress for the benefit of the romantic story.
Read if: You like Heyer's Regencies, or you are looking for a light romance suitable for your parent to read.
Skip if: You are a curmudgeon. No, really, it's not /substantive/, just enjoyable.
Also read: Shades of Milk and Honey, for a more mature but equally interesting take on magic use in the Regency upper classes.(less)
G. Willow Wilson is not Umberto Eco. But she might grow up to be something very like him, and I mean that in the best possible way. I picked up this b...moreG. Willow Wilson is not Umberto Eco. But she might grow up to be something very like him, and I mean that in the best possible way. I picked up this book because it won an award at WFC, and I agree with the selection committee. It is novel, interesting, complicated, philosophical, funny, and sticky.
Remarkably, for such a complicated book, there is a very clear and discernible plot. At no point do you worry that the characters will just continue to live lives of hopelessness or ennui. Instead, all these people are going places -- some of them not very good places, but they have motives and goals.
Alif is a hacker who gets his heart broken and so creates a program that identifies his beloved and erases him from her sight. He refers to it as pulling a hijab between them. But it turns out that in doing so, he has created something that he can use, but not understand why it works. And then she sends him the book of A Thousand And One Days, which is the Jinn version of A Thousand and One Nights. And state surveillance! The dark anti-hacker. Arab spring! Cyberpunk and sand dunes and quantum computing.
Have you ever tried describing what's going on in Foucault's Pendulum? And been reduced to uttering disjointed fragments like, "Pinball. Homunculus. Rosicrucians!"? That's how I feel trying to describe this book. Only, and this is an interesting contrast to, say, God's War, in that faith in this book is not an instrument of oppression (self and others), but a vast source of strength for believers.
I really appreciated the ... diversity in this book. There's a prince, there's an upper-class woman, there are lower class women. Our hacker is half-Arab, half-Indian. Wherever the City is, it felt real, the way the best worldbuilding makes you feel, like there are palaces AND slum, and migrant workers and class, oh holy mackerel, the class isssues. But none of that slows down the story or makes you feel Educated.
It will be interesting to see how the story ages. There is a lot that is relevant to recent, events, that may not age well.
Like all things, like civilization itself, the arrests began in Egypt. In the weeks leading up to the Revolution, the digital stratosphere became a war zone.
Anyone who has been reading my reviews for a while understands that I am a huge fan of in-character story-relevant philosophy. This book is full of amazing, brain-twisting observations.
“The convert will understand. How do they translate ºyw in your English interpretation?” “Atom,” said the convert. “You don’t find that strange, considering atoms were unknown in the sixth century?” The convert chewed her lip. “I never thought of that,” she said. “You’re right. There’s no way atom is the original meaning of that word.” “Ah.” Vikram held up two fingers in a sign of benediction. He looked, Alif thought, like some demonic caricature of a saint. “But it is. In the twentieth century, atom became the original meaning of ºyw, because an atom was the tiniest object known to man. Then man split the atom. Today, the original meaning might be hadron. But why stop there? Tomorrow, it might be quark. In a hundred years, some vanishingly small object so foreign to the human mind that only Adam remembers its name. Each of those will be the original meaning of ºyw.” Alif snorted. “That’s impossible. ºyw must refer to some fundamental thing. It’s attached to an object.” “Yes it is. The smallest indivisible particle. That is the meaning packaged in the word. No part of it lifts out—it does not mean smallest, nor indivisible, nor particle, but all those things at once. Thus, in man’s infancy, ºyw was a grain of sand. Then a mote of dust. Then a cell. Then a molecule. Then an atom. And so on. Man’s knowledge of the universe may grow, but ºyw does not change.” “That’s . . .” The convert trailed off, looking lost. “Miraculous. Indeed.”
Read if: You love The Virtuous Hacker, or technology/magic mashups, or reading about the possibilities of the meanings of words. And if you'd like to see veiled women being strong without losing their self-identification.
Skip if: You are looking for a book with certainty, or clear answers.