“Footsteps rescued me from my nightmare.“
This book threw me from the get-go, as it starts off on a sailing ship, the Demeter, in the 1800s, following the coast of Norway northwards to find a mysterious ‘Edifice’. We’re introduced to Dr Silas Coade, who splits his time between tending to the crew – including a trepanning treatment, eek! – and writing a fictional story about steam-powered ships, and other fantastical inventions.
Knowing this is a sci-fi novel, it was odd reading the first several chapters. I kept expecting a leap forward in time, or some other shenanigans, but this keeps on with the Moby-Dick feel for quite some time, reminding me perhaps of Jules Verne by way of Dan Simmons’ The Terror. Had the author decided to leave his sci-fi for another genre, and I’ve missed the fact?
But stick with it. The opening chapters are the slowest, true, but we meet the crew we’ll follow for the rest of the trip. We also learn a lot about Dr Coade, including his bad habits, his wants and dreams.
And then disaster strikes the good doctor, only for him to wake amongst the pages of his fantastical story… about submarines and other futuristic wonders. Their steamship, The Demeter (I can’t help but think a nod to Dracula!), has found the narrow entry leading to the mysterious Edifice, a structure of such twisted geometry that the word ‘eversion’ springs to at least one mind. Turns out it’s a real word, not dissimilar to inversion – worth looking up, and I learn something new every day!
So yes, this story is not all that it seems. Skipping through the centuries, always following Dr Coade, we soon realise that much more is going on than the slow beginning would have you believe. But what? Hah – you’ll have to read it to find out, no spoilers here! 😉
From slow beginnings, the mystery of the tale soon caught me up. It’s very different to previous works, such as Revelation Space, but let the author stretch those creative muscles to new places! Despite the length, it actually feels like rather a brief story, looping around within itself, but never repetitive. The ‘need to know’ kept me going, and while we are eventually privy to the truth, there are moments to wonder what’s really real, after all.
I can see why reviews are mixed on this one, largely, I suspect, because it’s not entirely what might have been expected. It’s also not entirely upbeat, which doesn’t always work in these miserable real-times, when it asks how does one make impossibly hard choices. Personally, I loved the clever construction, the reflective scenarios, the little clues and not quite red-herrings, and the weirdness that kept me guessing.
Recommended for those willing to try something a little different.
NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 33 chapters
First published: May 26th 2022
Read from 21st-25th May 2022
My rating: 8/10