Stephen Fisher, no longer quite such the hollow man as previously; oh look, the brief love and forgiveness of his ex-girlfriend has worked not quite a miracle, but certainly wrought some change. Whodathunkit. When this novel opens, Stephen is in an intriguing position: he remembers the Spiral all the time when he’s in the Core, he’s deliberately had many adventures there – but his life in the Core isn’t harsh or empty enough to give it up. In fact, he’s now the head of his company and he’s got a brand new, very interesting project on the go. No on-going relationship, but still – he’s not the hollow, use-and-leave type that once was. Which is good, right?
The ultimate reveal is brilliantly constructed. Up to that point… well, the story threatens to feel a bit samey. In fact, it is: there’s challenge from the Spiral affecting Stephen’s life in the Core, and he goes out and faces it and there are ups and downs, and something Big from out near the Rim challenges Life As We Know It. All of these things happened in the previous novels, and they happen here too. But the great thing about Rohan’s writing is that it still manages to be interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. For instance, in the mythos he’s mined: there’s been voodoo; and Asian myth from Buddhism to Hindu to animism; and here, Rohan brings it back to Europe. In terms of action, the first two books were similar in involving ships; here, the focus shifts to the possibilities of air travel (AIRSHIPS!). And I swear Rohan must himself have taken up fencing between Gates of Noon and this book, because the fights seemed to get a whole lot more technical… which I kinda skimmed occasionally. And while some of the side characters are the same – really, who could ever get sick of Mall? Really? And there are new characters too: happily, to my mind, especially another woman, who gets a bit more fleshed out than Claire or Jacquie ever managed to be in the previous books.
Yes, there’s some annoying repetition with Stephen bemoaning his life – but Gates of Noon was definitely the worst for that, and his growing/filling up has largely curbed that. And yes, the portrayal of women is not always great – Stephen occasionally has a ‘private’ leer which the reader is privy to – but Mall gets to be Amazing. This could be problematic, because clearly it’s not realistic and it’s annoying if the only woman has to be so much better than any of the men to warrant any air time: but it does entirely fit the idea of Mall being over 400 years old, and moving outwards on the Spiral, and therefore – like Jyp is, to a lesser extent – becoming… clarified. And she’s not the only woman, which helps.
So I firmly believe these books deserve their space on my shelf.