Book Review: Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota #1) by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  Tor Books

Summary:  Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer--a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labelling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world's population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competion is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life.

Where to begin & what to say about Too Like the Lightning? I suppose I should begin by saying I liked it. A lot. This future is presented in such a lush way that I am fairly impressed that the author fit so much in 400-odd pages but I'm equally disappointed that I didn't have a back 400-odd to continue on. I'm not afraid of an 800 page tome & I know I'm not alone. The cruelty of waiting for the next installment! I cannot stress enough how much I was hanging on to Guildbreaker's discussion about... oh wait, that would spoil things for you Reader, so let me just say it's a tear your hair out full stop moment & not an ending at all here.

I admit that this, for me, was all about the world-building and the politics, conspiracy and straight mind-flipping philosophical questions put forth here. I have to admit that I was quite disturbed with how I could see the reasons some of these things were put in motion by one Hive (like a House) or another. What price peace? It seems a global cabal that still hasn't had the entire veil lifted on. I need to say here once more... the wait for the second installment next year is just unfair! On another note, I've been completely disabused of the idea that if we can't trust anyone else, we can trust the mathematicians because they deal in the purity of numbers. Cartesian set-sets, I'm looking at you. Shame!

Be advised that if you're thinking by the summary that the special child, Bridger will be mainly featured in this story, he's not. Frankly, I must admit that I wasn't sorry as there's so much else going on. I was very captivated by the discussion & hints of the future that must come to be because of the big reveal that must be forthcoming. Mycroft is a great narrator but I did find his breaking of the fourth wall to throw me completely out of scene in the first third. Add to this that the singular "they" kept me at a distance from the characters while I did appreciate the challenge to my mind to think in a genderless way. I have to admit that Mycroft's explication of he or she after stressing the reason for the previous reference to "they" was annoying because I totally could accept the reason for it & happily read on but he just wouldn't leave it. It gave the impression that while he says that sex assignation is not important, it really is. Still, I applaud the author for writing this future history this way and challenging me in the present with how I think. I admit that I'm one who likes to visualise stories as I read them and while I can intellectually let go of gender being important, in my head, I don't see androgeny or genderless sapiens especially when the society is not intended to be made up of them. In this case, I decided that as long as I knew two people were speaking to one another, it didn't matter their gender... unless Mycroft stressed such in fevered italics relating to born with genitalia or prosthetics.

To sum up, I recommend this. Highly. If you liked I, Claudius & Claudius the God by Robert Graves, you'll be good with the style. If you like Kim Stanley Robinson, you'll be good with the world building emphasis. This is an expansive look at a future time and I can't wait to get back to it next year.

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