Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful.
First impressions are very deceiving, with this one, and assumptions can get you into a huge mess of problems, but fortunately for us, this writer has some serious chops, can lead us into a world that never quite changes, from the first page to the last, but instead invites and sometimes pushes us over the edge and CHANGES US.
What is this world, where are we headed? Is this truly a futuristic high-tech utopia that stylizes itself off the Enlightenment period including Voltaire, Sade, and Rousseau? Ha! You'd like to think so as you begin your read.
Is the tale revolving around a handful of seemingly mild mysteries, that while interesting in themselves, seem more like a vehicle for unfolding one of the most gorgeous societal world-building tableaus I've ever had the privilege to read? Ha! ... Again, I was fooled, lulled into complacency even as I was overwhelmed with sheer walls of world-data, only to be saved, regularly, by the sure hand of a truly wonderful and insightful narrator who would steer us through the dense currents and land us safely upon solid ground. Could I have wished for a more perfect or more gentlemanly Victorian Guide in a strange land? Nope!
And then there were the conversations. This novel has a lot to say about gender roles, and it is tackled delightfully, maybe even better than Ancillary Justice for sheer oddity. Social and societal quirks surrounding religion, was a big part of the novel, too, but it was the Conversation that made this novel become something Really Special.
And I really mean the Conversation; the ongoing discussion within whole fields of study and art and literature, or in this case, philosophy and science fiction. Ada Palmer deserves to be right up there with some of the best I've read, having so much to say about the Enlightenment period, made into a deep part of the story, aspects of the world-building, discussions both light and powerful between characters and even within our narrator's mind.
Some of the most awesome aspects of this novel are direct-line continuations of philosophy made into Art.
But do not let that dissuade you from this Oh So Excellent and Fascinating read, for even as I was fooled in the beginning, and as new and otherwise unforgivable glossed facts are slowly revealed to us, we are caught in a web much more complicated, dangerous, harrowing, bloody, and frankly more awe-inducing than I would have guessed in the first 150 pages.
It's a book worth reading several times over if only to pick up on all the clues that I had registered in passing, but not understood until much later.
And I will, because here's the real beauty... it's only part one of a two book cycle that belongs to one another. You know the symptoms. This is a fantastic larger tale that, by requirements out of the author's control, needed to be split unnaturally into two. It's only something truly miraculous and fantastic that the author still managed to make this single book feel complete and satisfying, even as it points to the second half of it's soul.
I feel truly blessed to be reading this. Ada Palmer has just earned herself a lifelong fanboy after a single wonderful read. This is what true Idea SF is all about, and it deserves to be up there with the very best. Remember Anathem? Sit yourself down for some real brilliance and some truly great set-sets.
I'm sure I won't be the only one who thinks the premise of the political setup is one I'd love to have now, even with its mature problems. I think this novel is going to be prompting an absolute TON of discussion among its soon-to-be legion fans. :) If there's any justice in the world, mind you. :)
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