The Unfinished Land – Greg Bear

“Reynard Shotwood, no longer a boy, not yet a man, had pushed the last of his dead shipmates overboard two days before.”

Reynard is a young lad on his uncle’s fishing boat, pulled into duty to help protect England against the Spanish Armada. We meet him after things have got astray, his crew and family all dead, his own life expectancy looking short as the elements take their toll. Even a miraculous rescue might not help for too long, as the passing ship is Spanish – and worse, no one seems to know where on the oceans they are.

Arriving at a strange island, things only go from strange to stranger. Ethereal figures, flying monsters, cabin boys waking up middle-aged. No one – least of all Reynard – knows what’s going on.

Where to even start with my review? Overall, this book made me wish I was better at ‘DNF’ing as it ate up weeks of reading time as I struggled through it. I wanted to finish, not least for this review, but by the end it just didn’t feel worth it.

Thing is, it’s not a terrible book. Greg Bear is a great author, and I’ve enjoyed some of his sci-fi work, and his skill with words is still evident here. But it just wasn’t for me, alas. I struggled to care for the characters, or to get into the story. That the main character is so clueless, and rather passive, really doesn’t help.

The tone is otherworldly, but I never felt drawn into the setting or caught up with the plethora of strange ideas. It should have been a relief, a ‘finally!’ moment after a very slow (imo) beginning on the Spanish galleon. But, no. It’s oddly Shakespearean – very The Tempest, shades of Midsummer’s Night Dream perhaps – and the language is full of all the thou and art and such. Now, I enjoy watching Shakespeare’s plays, but it was borderline grating here. In the speech, fine, but it slips into the narrative, too. Adds to the sense of cold distantness.

The story itself never really gets going, either. Reynard and others are pulled along in a journey. Momentous events appear to be occurring. But we don’t have enough background or buy-in, so it’s all just… meh.

Others might find this more appealing, but for me I’m afraid it was a bit of a slog for nowhere near enough return on the time investment. Perhaps it’s a bit too ‘literary fiction’ for me, but overall it was just disappointing.

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 56 chapters
First published: 2021
Series: none
Read from 24th January – 18th February 2021

My rating: 4/10

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