Everfair by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Unfortunately, this is a book full of flaws, but underlying all of those flaws is also a book I really, really want to appreciate.
Why? Because it's a story of the Belgian Congo under an alternate history banner that strives and reaches for its independence despite atrocity and thanks to technology. No more millions dead in unsung tragedy. Rather, we've got nation building in a rather fresh and ambitious undertaking.
Pretty, no? And the themes and the problems explored is also quite impressive, tackling head-on the issues of both racism and nationalism sometimes together and other times in stark contrast. Again, quite beautiful and quite exhaustively characterized, developed, and world-built. We've got a historian on board as well as someone firmly rooted in speculation in the author.
So what's wrong? Maybe it's just my poor brain, or perhaps it's just that the ambition is greater than the execution. I don't mind that we've got decades'-worth of world-building going on. I don't *theoretically* mind that we've got a literal ARMY of PoV characters.
I do mind when that army of PoV characters don't grab me emotionally, or I should say, some do, some don't.
I do mind when a lot of time passes and motivations change and we as readers are left in the lurch. Such things can happen off-page and can be quite interesting if we're either scholars pouring through the text OR we've been following a very limited cast over a long time, giving us the emotional investment to CARE why they change their minds. Unfortunately, I wasn't given either the investment or the pre-existing knowledge of the Congo's history or possible mitigating factors. It was left out of the book.
Are these deal-breakers? Not at all. The overriding sense of the nation is clear and I love the available kinds of interactions with America and the kinds of cross-cultural exchanges, learning, and even religious meshes that have developed over time.
All-in-all, it's a book worth appreciating... from afar. After the fact. As a purely intellectual exercise. My heart never quite got into it... and that's a shame because I wanted it to.
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