Quietus by Tristan Palmgren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!
This book is going to be a difficult one to review because it breaks a lot of normal conventions. The first half of the novel reads like a good outsider/anthropological exploration of our Black Plague from the PoV of a visitor from an alternate universe (the many-concurrent-universes brane). The second half reads like an outright space-opera full of huge ships and a truly immense population across space and branes and a plague that threatens to wipe them all out.
Similarities? Of course. Direct-line similarities, even, and it gets even more interesting when we have nearly godlike extradimensional civilizations involved in long conflicts with each other and with their own followers. Adding a monk from the middle ages asking important questions about God and why he lets bad things happen becomes another direct mirror to the subjects in these huge extradimensional empires and god-like beings involved in plague warfare.
The structure of this novel is pretty top-notch. I can ruminate about it for a long time and still find some really great questions and explorations. I've barely scratched the surface here.
On the other side of the coin, the factor of how much fun the novel is, how easy it is to read, boils down to how much you like heavy doses of historical fiction. I saw HUGE comparisons to be made between the front half of this novel and Connie Willis's Doomsday Book. Her's was time traveling historians getting stuck in the Black Plague and Tristan's was the moral and ethical quandaries of a multiverse-hopping anthropologist. I enjoyed it well enough and it went in quite interesting directions when it came to messing with indigenous cultures (in a very Prime Directive way) and the question of unintended consequences in timeline-development.
The second half of the novel was spaceships and AI companions and godlike beings messing with all us puny mortals in a very high-class SF full of action, more ethical quandaries, the fate of two vast empires.
My initial reaction as I was reading it was mixed. I liked it well enough but I wanted something juicier and more exploratory. It just felt like a number of other novels I've loved, also including KSR's Years of Rice and Salt and Michael Flynn's Eifelheim.
I did eventually get it. It just took a while to really flow into the historical fiction slant because, with that cover, I really expected the later explosion of big SF. :) No worries. It's there.
This was something rather interesting. I really enjoy the chances it takes. :)
View all my reviews