I received a hard copy of this book in my Swancon bag, and have just read it in my effort to read all of the Hugo-nominated works before I have to actually vote in the Hugos. I’d heard a lot about the book and therefore had high expectations, although without the time incentive I don’t think I would have read it any time soon.
Yeine is a half-breed, basically; her mother, of the ruling tribe? clan? family? ran away with and married her father, a noble of a very minor and backwater clan, much to the disgust of her own father, the not-quite-ruler of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Now, though, Yeine has been summoned to Sky – the centre of the world – after her mother’s death, and discovers that she has the dubious honour of being named as a potential heir to the throne. Naturally things are not going to proceed easily for her, not least because Sky is a weird weird place: the humans are a scheming, devious, unpleasant lot in general, and then you add in imprisoned gods who still have a remarkable amount of power….
I did enjoy the book, overall; not as much as I had hoped, but more than I feared. There were some engaging and clever plot twists, which made me glad I read properly rather than skimming – which I considered doing at about the 1/3 mark. Some of the characters developed nicely, particularly T’vril and Viraine, and some of the gods too. The backstory, about the God’s War, was nicely woven in – and the creation story was beautifully told with some neat original aspects – although overall it wasn’t that original.
However, I have not become a huge fan, and probably won’t bother with the rest of the series. Yeine did not engage me nearly enough to want to find out more about her character and story; I didn’t feel like she developed enough over this book, and the ways in which she did change were to become, largely, more unpleasant. And in terms of the story – actually I think that this works really, really well as a stand-alone. I was really surprised by the end because it feels like just that: a genuine end, a conclusion that makes sense and wraps up a lot of issues. Of course it left questions, but so do the conclusions of a lot of trilogies. So for me, this will almost certainly stay as a standalone; one that I enjoyed but that hasn’t had a huge impact on me.
I read this novella in my lovely hardback version of Godlike Machines. It’s a re-read, since I read it last year for Last Short Story and had to re-read it now to reassure myself that it really was as good as I thought it was in the lead-up to the all-important Voting In The Hugos. And yes, it still really really is.
What’s often awesome about novellas is that they give a certain amount of tantalising world-building, but leave a lot to the reader’s imagination. Reynolds does that here; it’s maybe 40 years from now, set in the Second Soviet of Russia. There’s all sorts of wildly interesting stuff hinted at, about Russia and the rest of the world, but it takes a back seat to the plot. And it’s a marvellous story. A trio of cosmonauts were sent out to rendezvous with a mysterious artefact on its third go-around of a 12-year elliptical orbit… and things proceed. More than ‘just’ a first-contact story (or is it?), though, the story is told some years later as one of the cosmonauts visits an astronomer whose outlandish theories about the artefact – the Matryoshka – had been derided.
So there’s fascinating world-building, a really cool story, and intriguing character development too. I loved this story originally, and I still do.