This is a story that with a setting that is absolutely gorgeous. The descriptions of all the planets and their beauty, the Great Network and K-Gates. The list goes on and on. Reading this at times felt like looking at art.
The concept of the Great Network and the gates in themselves are nothing really special. Trains that transport people incredibly quickly across the universe: we have teleportation in pretty every science fiction story ever so that in itself is not exactly awe-inspiring. What kind of clinches the deal on it is the fact that the trains are sentient.
Yes, trains that talk and think and have behavioral traits. And they are not alone! Pretty much everything in this world has some level of sentience. A kind of creature introduced in this story were the Hive Monks: a bunch of beetle-like bugs that have grouped together to make a kind of rudimentary skeleton that they all work together in a school of fish sort of way to “drive.” Together, they have sentience. If they ever fall apart from being on being though they are little more than normal bugs.
The history in this universe and the backstory of one of the characters that drives the story, Raven, is equally intricate. Love and gods and computers and the datasea and human exploration make for a wonderful backdrop for a story.
However, the story that is actually being told in this book, that of Zen Starling, does not live up to the setting that it takes place in.
Zen’s mother has been on the run from imaginary enemies his whole life, perpetually keeping them in poverty as she becomes unable to care for herself and her children. Zen’s sister finds work at a factory while Zen turns to thievery. He is recruited by man known only as Raven to steal an item from the most prominent family in the universe, the Noons.
There are a few really interesting characters introduced in this section of the book. But once Zen’s story separated from theirs it was like the author had no idea what to do with them anymore and just sort of wrote in a story that made sense but was kinda pointless so it wasn’t a loose end at the conclusion of the book.
More than anything though Zen’s story was just generally underwhelming against the setting it took place in. Yes, what he is hired to steal does have pretty big ramifications for the universe but the story ended before those ramifications had a chance to develop. Zen himself didn’t really see the big deal in it so how can the reader?
It really bothered me that Threnody’s story ended like it did.
No, I take that back.
Ultimately, I was happy with how it ended but wish a lot more time and focus had been spent on getting it there. It really felt like once Zen had no more need for her the author just shoved her in a place that made the most sense and put no more focus on her story. And she was probably my favorite character! I think it comes down to the author having an under-developed skill at writing multiple storylines in one.
The rest of the book was…okay. I liked it but doubt I will be really recommending it to anyone.
As we put in our review this world was really interesting and I think it was visually beautiful. The “living” robots are not original, but interesting. Back story on some characters were cool but overall I didn’t care about the different characters that appeared. I wonder if this hadn’t been a one off book, maybe the author would have had more time to develop characters and maybe I would have liked them better.