No Present Like Time by Steph Swainston

February 10, 2009 at 2:07 am | Posted in 2 stars, Book Reviews, Fantasy | Leave a comment

Steph Swainston’s Year of Our War was an easy book to like. The world she created for the setting was fascinating and had all sorts of wonderfully unique elements. These made up for a great deal, starting with the deep distaste I had for the main character and ending in what was ultimately a very underwhelming main plot. I came to the sequel hoping to see more of the great setting combined with improvement in the characters and story.

Well, I certainly got more of the great setting.  Maybe it’s not fair to speak of “improvement” of the characters, since they are reasonably well-drawn, but they were and remain thoroughly unlikeable.  By itself that’s not enough to scuttle a book, but in a sequel where I came in already hating the main character especially, it really wore on me.  And the story was, if anything, a step down from the first book.  The ending is far better executed from a technical standpoint, but I didn’t find what comes before compelling in the least.  It was strange, maybe even jarring, to find such a conventional story in a book which is otherwise full of fresh and interesting concepts.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of imperialist foreigners, including our disaffected main characters, show up and contact a previously isolated culture.  That culture turns out to be just about a completely utopian society.  The result of this cultural contact is the Eden is irreversibly contaminated.

I kept searching for irony or some hint that this “tragedy befalls the noble but gullible savages” story was going anywhere interesting, but apparently not.  The economics and politics of the utopian society were unconvincing as well, though for me that’s almost a tautology.  The moral of the story seems to be that we should avoid contact with other cultures, since our demonstrably imperfect culture will only sully theirs, which being different is probably perfect.

It’s a shame, because through the two books Swainston has slowly filled in more and more interesting details of her setting.  The revelations in this book were especially interesting.  I’d love to see what she’s got in mind for the whole picture, but I don’t know if I can make it through another book.

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