John Courtney Grimwood
Sequel to Pashazade, second volume in the Arabesque trilogy set in the alternate history Ottoman Empire. Started off a lot slower and less generally engaging, to the extent that a hundred pages in I was sharing some of the reservations I had on End of the World Blues, and was beginning to question Grimwood as a novelist. After that the story improved a lot, different elements of the backstory and unfolding action became stronger. For all that the initial glamor with entering this universe has worn out it proves itself to be a quite interesting and engaging story. Down plays the mystery format for a more thriller oriented setup, with lots of international intrigue that indicate not just the alternate Ottoman Empire but also how other powers impinge on it, making for an interesting layout. Has a better conventional climax than Pashazade, and by the end might be a bit more satisfying. I'm quite interested in the third volume.
At point I felt that Grimwood was leaning too heavy on the darker aspects of his invented setting, showing a society too violent, too corrupt, too dysfunctional to really be invested in. On the whole the picture works, but I feel it could benefit from down playing the classic cyberpunk angle a bit, and perhaps uncovering a type of hard-ridged uneasy optimism along the lines of Morgan’s Woken Furies. What we get in terms of an energetically violent and ruthless but not amoral protagonist is good, and the continued integration of past history into the course of events is good. The work lacks a bit of extra force that would make the polity really feel unique and plausible, and at times I grew a bit tired of the characters’ violence and struggles. Grimwood is still at least a major second tier science fiction writer, however, and he shows indications that he may attain real greatness.
Better than: Pashazade by John Courtney Grimwood
Worse than: Evolution’s Shore by Ian McDonald