My rating: 4 of 5 stars
what a fun little book.
an alt-history of Southern California, complete with lots of bits of actual history (the dirty fun stuff that we’re still fighting about in real life, like, ummmm, water), a nasty dystopian autocratic ruler and his hench-critters, and bone-magic.
usually magic kind of turns me off, but since this book was actual sf set in California, i couldn’t refuse. and i’m glad i didn’t.
our hero, Daniel, has a bog-standard Rough Childhood brought about by the eViL autocrat. well, bog-standard except the bit about the autocrat eating his father (no spoiler there, it happens early in the book). that’s precisely what’s fun about this book, how often it takes tropes and either turns them on their square heads or exaggerates them to the nth degree.
so, Daniel, rough early life, grows up a hunted man. learns the arts of thievery and badness in order to survive. and then is drawn into the heist of his life.
the heist part isn’t as much fun as it should be. i wish the author had spent more time with it. it’s done well enough, but it seems to all happen so quickly. part of a good heist is, i think, the equipage–asking yourself, what do they need that for? and the moments it all goes horribly wrong. that’s the suspense of a heist story–trying to figure it out in advance of the story, and the suspense of the moments where The Plan goes belly-up. in this tale we miss the equipment altogether, and while things do go wrong in this one, they’re worked out pretty quickly.
but that’s a quibble, in the larger scheme of the book.
of course Daniel has to go after his father-chowing nemesis, and in the meantime pretenders to the throne gather. there is scheming and plotting. and interestingly, there’s also a bureaucrat, a relatively low-level guy who doesn’t understand the lust for power at all and asks the obvious question:
Gabriel couldn’t understand why guys with power couldn’t be content to make sure people had adequate food, shelter, transportation, education, and opportunity. Why wasn’t that ever enough?
ahahhahahaahaha! i laughed so hard. why isn’t it ever enough? it’s stuff like that that makes the book such a pleasure.
anyway, it’s a quick read, and there’s almost certain to be a sequel. and probably a movie, almost certainly a movie. the book sometimes reads like a script that was fleshed out to make a book so that somebody could make a movie deal, which is a pity. i sincerely hope that next time Van Eekhout takes more time with the book–it’s a world and a set of characters that’s worth more ink.