09 February, 2021

[Review] Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Cover image from the goodreads website.

Series or Stand Alone: Terra Ignota #1
Release Date: 10 May, 2016
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Science Fiction/Futuristic/Political Science/Thriller/Suspense
ISBN: 9780765378002
Edition: Hardback (available in audiobook, eBook, and paperback)
Rating: ★★
Review Written: 8 September, 2020
Warnings: Strong language, graphic description of violence and murder, cliffhanger
Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer--a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world's population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life... 

See more by Ada Palmer at her website.
Read for the Charlotte Science Fiction Book Club.

I wanted to like this novel, I really did. But it was just... very slow to slog through the first two-thirds of the book. If you like political thrillers, you might enjoy this, but then again probably not. Our main protagonist is Mycroft, a servicer (aka a criminal deemed non-lethal to the public) who works for the good of humanity. Mycroft, of dubious crimes, likes to hang out at the Weeksbooth-Saneer Bash (the replacement model for the nuclear family). Why is he hanging around this bash? They aren't officially allowed to claim him as a member, and he does have to go to other jobs throughout the world. It's because he's hiding a child with Thisbe Saneer, one of the bash members. The child's name is Bridger and he has the magical ability to do various "miracles" in bringing toys to life and turning anything imagined into food or reality. So... a proto-Jesus figure.

The whole first 270 pages were dull. There were tangents. So many tangents. Normally I don't mind tangents however there were just so many. Particularly one that made me bang my head against the book was a tangent on page 27 discussing the dichotomy of gender. If not previously mentioned, this book takes places in the 25th century, but Mycroft is writing it like we're in the 29th century. Lovely. This tangent takes up half the page, going through how he (Mycroft) will be using the archaic "he" and "she" to describe people though in 25th century it's mostly a they/them society. Nobody ascribes to gender norms in the 25th century it seems... except for the world leaders.

Page 270 leads to the revelation that Mycroft (along with an accomplice named Saladin) murdered 17 people in a bash. A whole bash, since bash's tend to range from 10-20 people. Only one person escaped the massacre and was sent to live on the moon. Mycroft should have been put to death for his crimes, but it was deemed that death would be too swift a punishment for them and instead he has been made into a servicer. After a brief meeting with Saladin (who we learn was part of Mycroft's birth bash that was killed in an explosion when Mycroft was 8), Mycroft ends up in a whirlwind of events as Thisbe (remember Thisbe) and her new Sensayer (basically a priest, but oh yeah religion has been deemed illegal as well) Carlyle Foster start exploring secrets.

This secret reveals that all of the world's 7 hive leaders (hives replace nations) are part of a secret perverse club that is modeled after the 18th century. Part sex-club, part illegal life-style, this club offers a haven of sorts for the world leaders so they can all be on equal footing. Also apparently Carlyle is the son of Dante, who is wife of the Mitsubshi hive and sister to the Humanists vice president. It's such a nice little cluster-fuck honestly.

Perhaps my biggest complaint of this whole novel was the way it ended. Mycroft has been imprisoned, the head of the Cousins (people over the sensayers basically) is fucking the personal sensayer of the second Christ analogy in this story, and Bridger has been spirited away by Saladin. We find out that Bridger has an army of toys, however everything is shifted over to another Mycroft (this one going by Martin) who is basically a private investigator who is looking into the entire case that starts the whole book (you'll just have to read it yourself honestly). The last chapter is nothing but his case notes and a review with an outside police inspector who reveals that the Weeksbooth-Saneer bash has potentially been killing people for upwards of 5-7 years... and possibly even arranged for the death of all of their parents.

I would have liked a disclaimer in the front of this book letting me know that it's basically mandatory to read the second book to get the full story. I would have preferred less world building to more movement in the story. I'm going to end up reading the second book, hopefully it doesn't take me nearly as long to get through the story line this time.

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