For me, reading Napier’s Bones was very much like reading a book in Slovenian or Spanish – I understood most of it if I read slowly enough, but those big words I didn’t understand were the most important ones for the story. Except that a dictionary wouldn’t be nearly enough in this case. A degree in math would.
I have to admit that this was a fantastic idea, but it was poorly executed. The end result is a very confusing and incomplete worldbuilding that led to many passages like:Dom stood on the chair and wove some numbers around the smoke alarm so that it wouldn’t go off, then pulled some more numbers and formulae into a ball and raced it around the room, chasing the remaining fragments of smoke and scooping them up like Pac-Man trying to get a cheap high.”
Or even worse:He wasn’t being harassed anymore, so he waved a hand and stopped the flow, let the numbers begin their journey back up and into the numerical ecology. Some sprang into the air with great energy, others were more sluggish, skittering or even just crawling along the pavement of the alley before finally finding enough juice to push themselves back into the air.
The problem with building a world around something like math is that you have to be very careful how you do it. As far as I could see, Murphy mostly just threw in random mathematical terms and then used math itself like some kind of magic wand. I don’t understand math very well and I have no problems admitting it (view spoiler)[Whether I need it or not is another matter entirely. :D (hide spoiler)]
, but something didn’t add up here. That much was obvious even to me.
Another thing I had a huge problem with was the 3rd person narrative. Dom is a numerate, he sees numbers everywhere and he is able to control them up to a point. He has no formal education, meaning he’s not a mathematician at all, but he understands math in a way a normal person can’t. He’s very good at what he does – in fact, he’s quite convinced that he is the best. That’s why he is stunned by his failure to acquire the artifact all numerates want: the one containing Napier’s mojo. (view spoiler)[Yeah, mojo! *snorts? (hide spoiler)]
Instead of getting his hands on something that belonged to the most powerful mathematician and numerate, Dom ends up with an adjunct, a shadow, a separate consciousness sharing his body. Billy, the adjunct, becomes an equal partner: he is just as much in control of Dom’s body as Dom himself. That’s exactly why 3rd person narrative made a mess of things. This should have been Dom’s story or Billy’s story, told in 1st person. At least that way every pronoun wouldn’t have been a torture. After every ‘he said’, ‘he did’ I had to go back half a page to make sure which ‘he’ did something completely ordinary, like scratch their shared head. I never knew who the author was referring to and it was a nightmare. Derryl Murphy probably knows a lot about math, but communicative competence is not one of his strong points.
Because of the whole adjunct situation, the dialogues between Dom and Billy were also very weird. It was easy enough to forget that the two of them were using the same mouth to talk to each other (with different accents), but once I allowed myself to think about how ridiculous something like that would look, nothing they said was important at all.
Napier’s Bones has some great moments, it is fast paced and I really had fun when I wasn’t busy rolling my eyes. I think some of my friends will like it far more than I did.