The main character, Ripley, believes himself to be in a dream. The reader needs to buy-in as the focus shifts towards the dream being a new reality; a very strange one, but reality nevertheless. This either works for one, or it doesn’t. I am reasonably good at suspending belief, however, this story lost a good deal of its ‘believability’ for me. The book has some excellent reviews, so probably I am unusual. From the point at which I felt obliged to see the story as more than the telling of a dream I could no longer make any sense of the animal effigias attached to every semi-human. For me, fantasy needs to at least hold a thin string to scientific and/or philosophical plausibility. The buy-in isn’t helped by some serious structural problem with the book. The constant and insufficiently marked point of view changes, head-hopping, is very distracting. Often all we get is a line-break between the thinking and actions of varied changing characters, which often flicks to different locations and time frames. Then on top of that we have the confusion of the characters twinned animals communicating telephonically, with the warning of italics, but again without clear point of view direction. There are quite a few ungrammatical links between phrases, which sometimes jolted my progress. They didn’t distract me for more than a moment, as the story’s buzz was so good. However, the liaison between sentences doesn’t always bear up well under scrutiny.
The book could be improved dramatically by simply employing different typeface for different species, so helping one with the shifting scenes and characters. Changes in physical script would have also helped to give a greater variety of voice. Okay- this sort of typeface manipulation is frowned on by many literary purists, as of course traditional standards of grammar and sentence construction can make any point of view shift perfectly clear, but I think that this book is a case in point for the use of such devices. There is such a complexity of ‘communication’ between the characters, and a such a strong requirement in the writing style to shift focus quickly, that I think a mix of unorthodox cues for the reader is entirely justifiable.
So why then am I actually very positive, able to report that I enjoyed the book so much? Well, clearly it could be a lot better with a comprehensive rewrite. However, this is great entertainment. I had no trouble in finishing the book, when usually with so many structural faults I would have abandoned it very early on. Stokes’s writing draws very clear pictures and plenty of colour. I got a very strong sense of what her strange creation looks and feels like. The story and the speculative thinking behind the book is strong, bringing together many mythological ideas and rebuilding them in an intriguing way. With comprehensive editing this could become a really good fantasy novel rather than just a really good story. The ending is very thought provoking. I liked that very much.