“Dead centre on the Biedermeier table below Monet’s lilies lay a largish white pill stamped with a pink sickle moon and an amber star.“
Fogg is a museum curator, watching over mankind’s greatest artefacts. He also has a photographic memory and can draw any painting he’s ever seen before. What he doesn’t have is any visitors in the museum – until he reaches his third anniversary there, and finds a strange pill in front of one of the paintings. For reasons even he doesn’t really understand, he takes this ‘momenticon’ – and enters into the painting at its moment of creation. Never before has he experienced fresh air and nature and all the aliveness.
For, in this far-flung future where the atmosphere has become a poisonous murk, humanity lives in shield-protected domes. These are owned by one of two giant corporations Genrich, run by Lord Sine, and Tempestas, by the Vanes. One sees the future populated by the genetically-manipulated people they create to work and serve, but the skills of the other are needed to stop an ‘all work and no play’ malady from driving them to madness.
Before he knows it, Fogg is drawn into a frantic struggle for life – his, and the world’s. Which corporation, and which dark dream for the future, will prevail is now in the hands of some very, very strange characters indeed.
There’s no better way to describe this book than ‘weird’. It’s dark and oh so offbeat – fantasy, or a fantastical kind of sci-fi, post-apocalyptic and quite frankly just out there somewhat. It’s also rather erudite (see what I did there?!) with the author never shying away from big fancy words – really, what else could you expect from a (famous from more than a few celebrity cases) QC?! Thankfully the dictionary feature on my kindle did well, and it is nice to learn while you read 😉
The plot is probably also trying a little too hard to be clever. We end up following two main characters, Fogg and Morag, each with different very special skills, as their stories meet and part and circle towards a reunion. I must confess I found it a bit confusing at times, especially with flashbacks of them telling their pasts, then their quests visiting the same places as different times, and rather a large cast of other characters. It really didn’t help that I tended to read when tired, but neither was I so grabbed by the story that I felt compelled to read more at other times.
I think my main complaint would be that neither lead seems to know much, until oh look they had this secret little bit of knowledge – or special skill – they’d never mentioned before, but is now vital. Other characters drift in and out to provide needed information at just the right time, and everyone seems obsessed with keeping secrets. It sort of fits with the dreamlike atmosphere, but it also felt a bit contrived: here’s a new character who just happens to be in the right place at the right time. Again.
And yes, that fever-dream quality. With all this amazing but fantasy-ish technology, the obsession with art and recreating scenes (full tableaus, including people/not exactly people) and even characters from Alice in Wonderland (a theme that never quite hit for me) seems so weird and trivial and pointless it all just kind of lost me.
There is, no doubt, huge amounts of imagination here, and it’s well-written and at least an interesting read, if a little heavy-handed with the environmental message. But it also felt just a bit of a jumble and overly-ambitious, vaguely inconsistent with the imagery (or rather, any sense of why), and really just not entirely satisfying on any of the plot threads. Kicker, of course, being the “The story will conclude in ‘Simul'” at the end. I probably will read the sequel when it comes out, but with mild annoyance that I should have to.
NetGalley eARC: 401 pages / 42 chapters
First published: 12th May 2022
Series: untitled, but a sequel is named (and needed to make full sense of the story!)
Read from 2nd-11th May 2022
My rating: 6/10