In the “Acknowledgments” at the end of this fantasy book, the author writes:
“I really hope you guys enjoyed this book. If you didn’t, or if there was stuff that didn’t make sense to you or seemed too random, just e-mail me and I’ll come to your house and act the whole thing out for you. Maybe with origami finger puppets.”
I am one of those who would need her to visit with her puppets. Much of the book didn’t make sense to me. The parts that did, I didn’t like so much. Bullying and the abuse of kids is not one of my favorite subjects. The author portrayed these not so much as tragic but almost flippantly.
The story begins when the two main characters are in middle school. Patricia is a witch, and Laurence is an engineering genius. Both of them are treated as outsiders and hounded mercilessly, by their families as well as by their schoolmates. They remain somewhat oblivious to their ill treatment, however, except by withdrawing further into their odd niches. When they meet each other, they sense they can serve as allies to one another, although Laurence is a little freaked out by Patricia’s powers.
Laurence leaves for science school and Patricia for witch school; eventually they meet up again ten years later in San Francisco. Although they were supposed to be enemies – “science versus magic” – they ended up feeling bound together instead. But the apocalypse arrives, started in part by increasing environmental disasters, and it threatens not only their relationship, but the survival of the entire Earth (somehow equated in level of tragedy in this book).
Discussion: In some ways this book reminded me of The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, in terms of being creatively different, but also with very appalling imagery. It also had a similar mix of fantasy, horror, science fiction, alternate history, and social satire, with some romance thrown into the mix. But the writing in this book often seemed sophomoric or juvenile. A variety of plot threads are abandoned mid-stream. And none of the characters were developed with enough dimension to let the reader (or this reader) feel close enough to care. As for the ending, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Evaluation: I’ve seen a lot of praise for this book, and the blurb by Michael Chabon was astoundingly complementary. (In truth, however, it sounded to me like he was describing one of his own books rather than this one.) The author explored some interesting ideas, but I had to push myself to get through the book.
Published by Tor, a trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, 2016