Note: From this point on in the book reviews I’m going to be reading short stories between books from various anthologies that I have. So, occasionally a post will pop up with a short story review on it, and then that same post will reappear with a new story added, until I finish that particular anthology and do a overall review for it.
Now to the review of this particular book.
This was one of the hardest books for me to get into. The opening is so utterly bizarre that I hadn’t a clue what was really going on until around page 200–about halfway into the book. The story is basically as follows:
Francine is a young teenager who has run away from her world to another world. She’s running away from her life where love has failed her, hoping that she might find love elsewhere. It’s there in Sankhara that she meets Jalaeka who turns out to be a splinter of the god-like entity called the Unity. But Unity wants Jalaeka back and is willing to do just about anything, even destroying entire sidebars (alternate worlds), to get what it wants.
I really did like the concept for this. The sidebars/worlds are all these fantastic places where fantasies and dreams are realities. Some places are like breeding grounds for super heroes and villians; others have elves and other mystical creatures. All these worlds completely unique to each other.
The problem with the novel isn’t this concept, but with the way that Robson presents everything. The beginning is a blob of information and world building that doesn’t make hardly any sense at all. I got lost so many times trying to figure out who the heck is who and why the hell these characters that are supposedly human are acting so, well, inhuman. I’m still baffled by that myself. Is there something about Jalaeka that makes people suddenly in love with him? I’m sort of lost there. Part of the issue is the overwhelming amount of character viewpoints. At first I was used to the simple three–Jalaeka, Francine, and Greg–but then Robson adds in Valkyrie, Theo, and Rita too, later on in the novel. This is all just too much. I can’t keep concentrated on the concepts that are very deep and already difficult to grasp when I’m forced to jump around character to character.
In all honesty the novel only started getting interesting to me by around page 200, and it had me somewhat hooked for about 100 pages, but Robson managed to kill it again for me by going off on random almost useless tangents about past lives or some such that actually have so little to do with the story at hand. Unity is freaking out trying to get Jalaeka, trying to destroy his friends to get to him, etc. and then Jalaeka is trying to fix his friends because Unity has translated Greg (meaning assimilated basically) and the only thing that can fix it is the Engine. Then fooling with the Engine screws everything up and the entire world of Sankhara starts going down the tubes, and right in the middle of all this we are graced with a flashback session. Why? There is no reason for it. I don’t care about Jalaeka’s past at this point, some 300+ pages into the novel, because quite frankly there are far bigger things going on–namely the destruction of an entire world!
In the end the novel leaves so many questions unanswered and the sense of persistent confusion at what exactly happened and why. While her writing style is rather poetic in nature, it doesn’t do anything to soften the blow that is this novel. It’s a tough read. There’s nothing exactly easy about this. I found myself wanting it to end already so I could move on. Several times I wanted to put it down and stop reading. I wish this had been written far differently with more believable characters and a plot that centered around the central theme rather than running off in random directions. As such, this isn’t exactly the great novel it’s being toted as by NY Times and the Guardian.