Summerland – Hannu Rajaniemi

“Rachel White flung the cab door open, tossed the driver a banknote and dived into the rain.”

England, 1938. The war is over, but not the way our reality had it. In this version of events, death is no longer a closed door. Instead, we can see through the windows to ‘Summerland’, send messages, maybe work out ways to have visitors once in a while…

The real-world branch of the British intelligence services is now known as the Winter Court. Even in these hallowed halls it’s not the best time to be a woman, as Mrs Rachel White knows well. When one of her missions goes awry, her gender is used against her and she finds herself in the typing pool. But a highly trained, accomplished spy treated so poorly is surely ripe pickings for the other side to turn…

I’ve been meaning to read some of Hannu Rajaniemi’s work for ages now – I’ve got his Quantum Thief trilogy on my shelves (well, in boxes right now, as I’m moving!), and in fact I know some of his colleagues at Edinburgh Uni. So when this stand-alone title popped up on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance!

And if I’m being honest, I was just a tad disappointed. The world-building is excellent with lots of cool ideas about how the ‘afterlife’ might be and how it could interact with our reality. There are also some intriguing hints of how this kind of revelation would affect people’s minds, and of course how history diverts along with the discoveries, using real historical figures alongside the fiction. The fairly standard, Le Carre-esque Cold War spy thriller is lifted with those hints of the fantastical.

However, I never really clicked with any of the characters somehow, and I think that left me a little less engaged with the book that I would have liked. Rachel was meant to be the key character, she was likable enough and wasn’t putting up with being treated like a 1930s housewife, but… hmm. It possibly didn’t help that half the time we followed someone on the other side of the spy game, and he came across as something of an over-privileged school boy toff of the kind I cannot stand.

I’m still very much looking forward to backtracking to Quantum Thief – the writing here was good – and despite my so-so feelings on this one I’d certainly want a look if more of this world appears on the page.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 24 chapters
First published: June 2018
Series: none
Read from 12th June – 14th July 2018

My rating: 7/10 – well-written, intriguing concept, but I didn’t quite click with it all

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