Completed 11/27/2022, Reviewed 11/28/2022
I didn’t like this book. I thought the form was confusing, the world building muddled, and the characters not terribly likable. I had trouble following what was going on for over half the book. By the time it explained things, I had given up on it. I finished out of habit; I have a hard time just putting down a book when I’m going to write a review, and more significantly, when I’m doing a challenge. I read this book because I’m reading all the World Fantasy Award winners and this one won for 2016. The premise is intriguing: a near future London where music is used to wipe memory and keep people completely in the present. However, this didn’t become clear until that halfway point of the book, even though I had read the blurb that explains this before starting the book. And I don’t like being lost for 150 pages.
The story begins with Simon coming to the city after his parents have died. He carries a bag of items which when he touches them, he can remember things. This turns out to be a gift, not something everyone can do. In addition, he can read the memories off other people’s items. Too old to become an apprentice, he joins a gang that collects palladium from tunnels leading to the Thames. Lucien, the leader of this little gang is mostly blind, but has a secret. He knows how to destroy the Chimes which wipe out memory. Simon joins him in his quest to do this. In the process, they fall in love. Of course, this makes the mission more dangerous as they are pursued by the order of monks which compose the music and safeguard the status quo.
I liked what the author tried to do, making a world where music is used to communicate. The prose is dotted with musical terms and phrases, like presto and lento. There were some I didn’t know and had to look up. After a while, I felt this device to be dreary and annoying. It didn’t flow with the prose or in the dialogue. I think anyone who doesn’t know much about playing an instrument would find this really difficult to understand.
Simon was the main character, but I never felt empathy for him. I didn’t not like him. Nothing really drew me into his mind. Even when he finally falls in love with Lucien, I didn’t really care. All I could think was “finally”. Lucien was annoying. He never gave clear answers to Simon’s questions. I felt like this was a poor literary device to string the reader along as well as Simon. None of the minor characters drew me in either.
I’m giving this book two stars out of five. It’s a good idea, but poorly executed. Other books which use music for world building were much more successful, like Gossamer Axe and A Song For A New Day. I also didn’t get how this was fantasy. I thought it was much more like science fiction, with it’s post-apocalyptic London and lack of anything magical or supernatural. I’m definitely going to think twice before reading another novel by this author.