Now I know that I’ve been saying that I love things a lot lately (and it’s true. I’ve been on a wild hot streak for great books. That and I’ve been dipping into my back catalogue of beloved reads whenever I think I have something to say about them, rather than writing about books that I’m either not that into, or just liked and don’t have that much to say about), but I don’t want that to undermine the praise I’m about to heap on this particular novel. Which, when you think about it, why should it? I say I love people and different things a lot, yeah, but I mean it every time. I love to love things! And why not? Who wants to walk through life searching for reasons to dislike stuff? So I’m just going to say it, and I don’t want to hear anything about it, okay?
I loooooved this book.
There have been lots of books that I’ve liked recently (tons! See previous rambles), but this definitely going in my all-time fantasy favourites. I’d had it recommended to me a bunch of times before, seen it around in book shops and the internet, but for some reason I just never picked it up. I think it may have been my quick, lazy scanning of the description on the back, coupled with the name of the book itself, that made me think it was kind of YA-y and not really up my alley (there’s nothing wrong with YA. In fact, most of the YA stuff that I’ve read I’ve at least liked. I just don’t read a ton of it and I have to be in the mood for it when I do). But I finally received the recommendation that tipped me over the edge the other day and I haven’t seen the sun or any of my friends since.
Right off the top, YA this book is not. It is the complete and polar opposite of YA. This book is OABBA (old-ass, bitter, broken adult). This is easily one of the most brutal, intense, completely banana-pants books I’ve ever read. And trust me, I’ve read some really weird shit (Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Dark Tower Series, anything written by Jeff Vandermeer). I always really dig it when a fantasy book leans into the limitlessness of the medium. You want a man that runs a library which holds the entirety of the knowledge he’s collected over his sixty thousands years as maybe-God? No problem. How about a family where some of the siblings can talk to animals, others can bring people back from the dead or use their ghost babies to see the future, and one of them has gone a little kooky from spending too much time in the afterlife (having been murdered in every conceivable way by their Father)? Why not? Think you should throw in a little crazy demi-god of murder fighting the US army to spice it up a bit? Go nuts! This novel is so jam packed with good, out there, original ideas that it easily could have rested on the laurels of its imagination and phoned the rest of it in. I still would have given it an A.
But it didn’t. I’m shocked (and jealous and…a little aroused?) that this is Scott Hawkins first book. I think it might be one of the most well plotted, tightly structured fantasy novels I’ve ever read. Even though the framing of the story is massive and sprawling (the search for a potentially dead God, the vying for his now empty throne, the end of the world), the actual core of the story is really personal, almost small. The threats are all legitimate and well established (we know how bad the bads are, what it is they can and will do), but even more importantly than that they’re properly motivated. You may not always know why people are doing the terrible things they’re doing while they do them, but by the end of the novel it all makes sense. It’s incredibly complicated, filled with a complex, diverse cast of characters who are all intelligent (they all do the things that intelligent people would do in their circumstances…for the most part. Sometimes the situations are so wacky that it’s hard to tell what it is a smart person would do), capable, driven by their own agendas, and often at odds with one another. That’s a lot of balls to juggle, but Hawkins nails it. It all just fits, you know? And the ending is so satisfying that, even though I love all the characters and definitely want to spend more time in this world, I don’t really want to go back to this story. It’s done. It’s been told. I don’t need anymore.
Anyways, I could really go on and on about this book (there’s so much good stuff here guys), but I feel like you’ve put up with enough of my barely coherent rambling for one day, so I’ll try my best to wrap it up. It’s big, brutal, surprisingly moving, darkly funny, extremely well thought out and, for all that, still a blast to read. I’d recommend this one for anybody who loves mythology, urban fantasy, dark humour, or just likes a super-duper, fucked up, wackadoodle story every now and again.
Get out there and revel in the weirdness, ya’ll. It’s lots of fun 🙂
PS. As a brief disclaimer, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s got just about every type of violence you could think of in it (sexual, psychological, emotional, boybeingslowlyburnedaliveoverthecourseofafewdaysinagiantbronzebullwhilehissiblings-aremadetowatchinordertoteachthemallaveryimportantlessonaboutlisteningtoyourfather-ical) and more than a few that would never cross your mind. If we’re doing a 1 to 10 scale of violence and depredation, 1 being See Spot Run, and 10 being A Song of Ice and Fire, this is a solid 12 or 13. I think you should brave it, but if you’re not the type of person that can handle this type of thing, you’ve been suitably warned.