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House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
Reviewed: 2014-03-13, 00:41, My Rating: 4.5 out of 5, review contains spoilers: No
Having not quite exhausted the Iain M Banks canon, I'd been looking for a new author to try, and found myself wandering round Foyles main bookshop in London, which has a decent-sized SF section. Maybe I'm a snob, but I was looking for something that wasn't obviously number 4 in a 6-book series. Something standalone.
In the end, it was Bernard Cornwell's endorsement on the front cover that swung it for me, and I dived in.
The book is told from 3 points of view - Abigail Gentian, and two of her shatterlings, Purslane and Campion, and it meandered for quite a few chapters, before I got it straight in my head the alternation between Purslane and Campion, and who was who. They seemed interchangeable for a while, as they were companions simply alternating the narrative of the same events, and their voices aren't all that different. Furthermore, having been told they were clones, I jumped to the incorrect conclusion that they were both the same gender, and nothing in the voice of either actually put me straight. I had to mentally rewind a couple of chapters, and practically write it down so I wouldn't forget which was which. I could tell that seeds were being sown in these early chapters, but not much clue as to a destination.
Finally, though, the action kicked off, and the novel really came alive. More details about the shatterlings emerged, through a link-up with a larger group of shatterlings, and I found myself gently reminded of Roger Zelazny's cast of Amber , or Philip Jose Farmer's Gates of Creation crew, both long-time favourites.
Reynolds then sets the shatterlings into conflict, so that the tensions between them all emerge, and true to the spirit of Amber, there are hidden traitors, though not so fully drawn with only a single novel to play with, and a murder. Reynolds doesn't have many shatterlings to play with, but he has no compunction about winnowing them down further.
There then follows a satisfying collection of space battles, unmaskings, one-on-one tussles, misdirections, secret societies and whatnot, and Reynolds is clearly in his element like a magician on stage, revealing each twist with a grin and a flourish.
And finally the end approaches, with just a few pages to learn whether Reynolds will dash our hopes for the protagonists, or fulfil them. I've learned in the space of this book that he's capable of both. But will he show balance? - that indefineable quality where the ending is not predictable, and is definitely not all-lived-happily, but in some measure just and fitting.
Yes, he does.House of Suns on Amazon