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 labelling 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 destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…
This book is confusing. That is the best way to describe it. Ada Palmer is a historian which explains the strange way this book has been written. It’s almost as if the main character is telling you what happened. In fact that is exactly what it is like. At some points the character is talking to the reader like they are the one who wrote this book not Ada Palmer. This does mean it’s almost written in a style that you could imagine came from the 24th century. It’s not flowery but you have to take time and really pay attention. In fact I only read two chapters of this at a time. It’s the sort of book that you need to go away and think about. Not because it is especially deep. It’s just that sort of book.
I think the thing I liked most about this book is the way it handles gender. It’s written like the main character is talking to us, from a 21st century perspective. But in the time he is from they don’t use gendered words any more. They don’t even wear clothing that reveals what gender people are. So the main character (Mycroft) will sometimes refer to a character as he or she, but also points out that even though they are describing that person as that gender, it doesn’t mean they actually are that gender. What he actually means is that character has mannerisms you would associate with that gender. Later on you see a group of people who insist on referring to Carlyle as a ‘she’ despite the fact they aren’t a ‘she’. But they are in a role which historically was woman’s role.
This is the sort of book you really need to read yourself. My experience reading it was more similar to reading something from the 18th century rather than science fiction. Which I suppose makes sense really because I’m sure Ada Palmer took inspiration from 18th century writers. I know I’ve only given this 3 stars but personally I feel it’s the sort of book I have to go back and read again just because it’s so dense. I’m going to need to do that soon however because the next book comes out in March.