From the absurd to the fascinating, from comedy or “sitcom” chapters to tragedy, from subtle but also important changes in the main story to frequent surprising plot twists... This novel even surpasses the first, so I must congratulate Ada Palmer for these two impressive novels. The books are a declaration of love for the Enlightenment and to the intellectual and philosophical movements that revolutionized and dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th Century.
About the reading experience, the plot unfolds fluently in some chapters and in others (the most, in fact) it is difficult to advance because you have to reread continuously to understand the subtleties of the story and to not lose important information (I guess it happens to me more, as I said English is not my mother tongue). I must clarify that fortunately it does not reach the level of difficulty of the first novel, however it does not prevent that at some point you can feel that your brain will explode with such complexity, which could also be said in favor of the author's wisdom with the classics from the Age of Reason and also about her good literary skills.
So, I wonder, why is this book so difficult and at the same time so captivating to read? Briefly, I will try to explain it (spoiler-free mode activated):
- A very complex and well-built story. Also with frequent and surprising plot twists, for me one of the best aspects of the novel.
- The author is aware of the literary principle: Do not explain, suggest; and also she dosifies the information that the reader receives in order to develop the intrigue. Most of the unsolved questions in the first book are explained here.
- [Please hold my coffee] The whole two novels are told from a subjective point of view, mostly by the main character Mycroft Canner, but interspersed in the narrative there are some comments addressed to "you" (a distant future reader) and also to a contemporary 25th Century reader/corrector who in turn reprimands the narrator questioning his style or the facts narrated. In other words, the author uses a first-person point of view in the mouth of Mycroft Canner; a second-person addressed to “you”, or when the reader/corrector discusses with Mycroft; and finally the third-person point of view about stories from other characters told by Mycroft Canner. Also note the frequent use of the royal we, or pluralis maiestatis, referred to some of the characters. You must pay attention!
- Regarding the previous point, a prose very convoluted, frequently imitating classic texts and using archaic expressions. Also in this novel there are some languages merging: Latin, French, Spanish, German; and some more in the case of the vocabulaire (Japanese, Greek, etc.). The author translates it for us, but it is a “double” read.
- The characters are very well developed, another strong point of the novel, but they are a lot and they are evolving. An example, the one that the author seems to treat with the most loving care: the tribune J.E.D.D. Mason, or Jed Mason, or the Porphyrogene, or Jehovah, or Micromégas (from Voltaire's book, considered one of the first novels of science fiction), or Tai-Kun, or... He has nearly ten names! And also, the relations between the characters are very complex, like a TV soap opera but concentrated in only one season.
- Finally, the aspects of science (fiction) and fantasy (?) involved also are an awesome add to this mixture.
I am sure that I leave a lot of important aspects to comment, but in any case it is a very, very interesting reading. As I said before, in this sequel the author resolves the main plots he had left open to the previous book, while opening a wonderful, New World to discover in the next sequel, "The Will to Battle".