An ambitious, if uneven update of the King in Yellow set in modern Vancouver. The plot has echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice, with the ‘underworld’ being the surreal, doomed dreamscape kingdom ruled by an eldritch abomination. Graduate student and lucid dreamer Liz and her boyfriend Alex search for her missing friend, the artist Blake in Vancouver. They find themselves enmeshed in a sinister drug and magic fueled underworld.
Pros: The characters are for the most part, skillfully drawn. Kudos to the portrayal of the sexuality spectrum. Liz is an asexual in a loving, if complicated relationship with her boyfriend. Blake was involved with a male lover. All of these facts are presented in an organic manner. The writing is lovely and full of atmosphere. The nightmarish imagery of the liminal world of Carcosa, with its strange constellations and ruined, sky-piercing towers, is worth the price of admission.
Cons: The plot was a bit muddled, and a couple of characters—particularly the gun toting badass monster killer Lailah—was a bit of a false note. It felt like she belonged to a different story. The novel is short; I would have liked to linger in the author’s world a bit more. The loose ends the author leaves dangling would make an excellent sequel.
Recommended for fans of weird fiction, Caitlin R Kiernan, Shirley Jackson and the music of CocoRosie.
A sequel to Oryx and Crake (and the 2nd book in the newly-dubbed MaddAddam Trilogy), The Year of the Flood is a better book, in my opinion, than the series opener. The story is told through the eyes of two women, Ren and Toby, who are once and future members of an eco-cult called God’s Gardeners. Ren grows up in the cult after her mom leaves one of the gated pharmaceutical communities that control the world. Her narrative is first person and traces her life from an impressionable child to tough adulthood. Toby’s narrative is in third person, and she initially becomes a Gardener to escape a dire circumstance. Each of their contrasting sections is short and they end on a cliff hanger moments. Through these fragments, you get a different glimpse into the dystopian future Atwood’s created, with its Corporate structure and science gone amok. Interspersed are sermons and hymns from the cult. A warning: the book is very dark, even grim-dark. Atwood doesn’t shy from describing the horrors these two very different, and differently strong women face. A criticism: I found it hard to believe one major plot point which I won’t spoil. The Year of the Flood also reminded me of Octavia Butler’s Parable series, in the use of religion and dystopian themes.