The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey and Louise Carey

It’s rare when, after finishing a book, you have zero qualms with it – even little nit-picks. But that’s exactly how I felt after finishing The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey and Louise Carey. This is going to be a short review and really more of a rave; there’s not much else needed to say except that it’s just very nice.

The book takes clear inspiration from A Thousand and One Nights – from the prose to the chapter names. Each chapter is named in the format of a short fairy tale (‘The Tale of the Girl, Her Father, Her Two Suitors and the King of Assassins’, ‘The Youth Staked Out in the Desert’ etc) and usually is quite short in length to fit this theme. The narrative style is reminiscent of folktales in that it’s flowery and poetic. Almost every chapter works as a standalone tale and they occasionally contain nested tales. One, for example, is recounted by the narrator about an elderly lady who then tells a story to her grandkids. It’s a simple but surprisingly effective way to emphasis the mythical nature of the book.

The overall story is about the rise and fall of Bessa – the ‘city of women’. As the narrator points out almost immediately, this moniker taken literally is an inaccurate description of the city but is more or less an accurate statement given the gender politics of the book’s setting. The book tells the story of the late Sultan’s harem of 100 women after they get banished from the city by the new ascetic leader. Forced to fend for themselves in an environment that is far less luxurious than what they’re used to, they quickly create a new  egalitarian society for themselves in the desert.

The story meanders along, occasionally pauses to elaborate on the backstory of a character and switches between the POVs of many of the people in the city. There are roughly 5 main POVs but often there will be a chapter here or there following a side character who until then was just mentioned by name. Having too many viewpoints is often a recipe for disaster or at least for confusion but it works here. It never feels forced and just adds to the theme of community. It makes sense that the narrator is omniscient because it’s a made up tale so of course they can say with certainty how every character thinks and feels.

In a similar vein of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, The Steel Seraglio just oozes warmth and humour. The characters are sympathetic, optimistic and trusting of each other. They are genuinely good people trying to create something worthwhile and lasting and it’s a joy to read.

And if you’re interested in reading poc- or female-centric books, good news pal because this book is naturally chock full of them.

The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston

The Traitor God is a noir murder mystery wrapped up in a fantasy setting. It’s a violent, adrenaline-filled adventure through a heavily segregated city split into the upper- and lower-class areas. I enjoyed the book as a whole but there were some issues I had. Unfortunately for a first person single POV book, the main character was one of the biggest. Edrin Walker is, by design, not a particularly likeable protagonist. It’s not necessary for the main character to be heroic or even just mostly good – Mark Lawrence pulls this off excellently in The Broken Empire. Jorg is a despicable person but he embraces it and it’s clear how his personality was formed. Edrin, however, just repeatedly tells himself how horrible he is in a self-loathing manner that is incredibly difficult to sympathise with especially at times when it’s at odds with his actions. I think perhaps the book would have benefitted from being written in third person or at least a less personal first person – just seeing Edrin’s actions would have been enough to show he’s meant to be this nuanced, troubled character. Instead, the reader is treated to constant internal monologues that forcibly remind them how tortured Edrin is which just gets a bit excessive.

Fortunately, however, I felt that Edrin was the only weak link in an otherwise strong cast of characters. The story is very much about Edrin but there are many supporting characters that subtly flesh out the city in a not too exposition-heavy way. My favourite is Charra with whom Edrin has a refreshingly platonic relationship. Johnson carefully balances her character by showing how the city guards and Edrin respect her enough not to pick fights and contrasts that with how she raises her daughter (who is badass in her own right) in the quite dangerous slums. There’s also Eva, a powerful paladin who defies the old Warrior Woman In Impractical Armour trope and the wizened leader of the Mages who Johnson manages to flesh out far more than expected with such little ‘screen time’.

The plot itself was a bit of a let-down by and large. Generally, in fantasy I’m more interested in the characters and world building but since this was a murder mystery novel, the mystery is the whole point. I’m usually completely dense when it comes to mysteries – in City of Lies I didn’t figure who the villain was until moments before it was revealed. In The Traitor God, the villain’s identity is honestly easy to figure out beforehand. The book is very-paced which is fine for the most part but waiting a little longer for the reveal or masking it more thoroughly would have gone a long way. It also relies on one of my least favourite storytelling mechanics – memories being blocked that slowly resurface. They always reappear at conveniently appropriate times and each memory is just important enough to be interesting or relevant in the moment.

At the end of the day, I did enjoy reading The Traitor God. It does some interesting things – the magic system is compelling, and I have a tendency to prefer standalone novels – but ultimately there wasn’t much to stand out as particularly amazing. It wasn’t bad by any stretch it just wasn’t something exciting or innovative. The Traitor God is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in murder mysteries or morally dubious protagonists.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few is the latest instalment in the Wayfarers universe and simply put, it’s incredible. I was pleasantly surprised to see it revert to the style of A Long Way with a large cast of POV characters rather than just the two in A Closed and Common Orbit. In the slice of life genre, characters make or break a novel and thankfully Wayfarers continues to make.

In fact, while all the POVs (except one) are human, there’s a huge range of main characters with a diversity in age and attitude that the prior two books didn’t touch upon. Chambers produces them all with sophistication: from the bored teenager, Kip, who can’t wait to leave the Fleet because ‘anywhere else is better’ to the polar opposite young man, Sawyer, immigrating to the Fleet because it has to be better life currently. From Eyas the caretaker steeped in tradition to Tessa (sister of Ashby from A Long Way) who wonders if it might be better to move on and go planetside. However, my favourite was easily Isabella. Elderly people are so rarely main characters that it was refreshing to see her point of view and every scene with her wife was utterly adorable.

The entirety of the novel is set aboard the Exodus Fleet – a collection of spaceships that house humans that left the Sol system when Earth became uninhabitable (bit didn’t join alien worlds). The Fleet is a fascinating concept and it’s interesting to see how Chambers created its customs. One of the more novel concepts was how to dispose of the dead. The easier route would have been to just have them send ashes into space but instead people known as caretakers reuse the Fleet’s remains, turn them into compost. It could easily have been a pretty morbid addition but is portrayed respectfully. The caretakers are revered by the Exodans (so much so that it is sometimes to Eyas’s chagrin) – the whole process is described in detail, it very much feels like a non-deity-based religion.

Whenever people ask for cosy or optimistic SFF, Wayfarers is always one of the first recommendations and Record of a Spaceborn Few is no execption. It’s probably the darkest of the three (though that’s not really saying a lot) what with the catastrophic loss of life that jumpstarts the novel. But even with that event (and others), Chambers manages to keep the mood upbeat throughout. It’s such an easy read throughout that the reader can just fly through the book.

The only problem I had is that sometimes it felt a bit too exposition-heavy. During the novel’s timeline there is an alien Harmagian documentarian that is visiting Isabella (the historian) on the Fleet. Chambers uses this trip as its very nature to relay cultural and structural explanations. While this is a clever way to infodump on the reader, it’s an infodump all the same. It feels a bit tiresome as it doesn’t further develop either the plotlines or the characters and is a copout-y way to expand the setting. The exposition also bleeds into Isabella’s chapters since she spends a significant amount of time with the Harmagian.

One thing in particular I really liked in Record of a Spaceborn Few compared to its predecessors was its conclusion. I loved the previous two but they both end a little jarringly, both could have gone on a little longer without a doubt. In this book, Chambers employs lots of time jumping at the end to fully conclude each story, giving the reader proper closure for every character – something that the other books, A Long Way in particular, were missing.

Ultimately, reviews of this book aren’t really needed. And I have a feeling this is the case for any future Wayfarers novels. If you liked the previous two, any aspect – the hopeful tone, the worldbuilding, the happy and friendly characters, it’s guaranteed you’ll like this one too. Becky Chambers has combined the many POVs of A Long Way with the more concrete interweaved storylines of A Closed and Common Orbit, perfecting her slice of life style. Chambers has dropped so many little ideas about the universe, it’s ripe for exploration and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies is an incredible fantasy whodunnit novel by debut author Sam Hawke. It’s the kind of book that starts off with a simple premise – the Chancellor has been poisoned in a closed room – then gradually picks up, with problems and mysteries stacking up until you hit a critical mass of questions and everything starts to fall into place.

City of Lies is hugely character driven throughout and would have suffered if not for it’s refreshing main characters. Jovan is the Chancellor’s secret food proofer and chemist. His, and his family’s, job is to check any food the Chancellor is to eat and detect possible poisons within. He is devout in his duties and takes great honour (a central tenet of their culture) in putting himself in harm’s way for his friend. Jovan also suffers from quite serious OCD that requires him to move and act, such as counting steps, in groups of eight and can debilitate him when he loses control over his impulses.

“The longer this situation went on, the more the compulsions built up…there were five different patterns: pacing, hands squeezing, toes scrunching, thighs tensing and teeth clicking. Counting sets of eight for each muscle group took all my concentration”

Kalina is Jovan’s elder sister and would have originally been the proofer in the family if it wasn’t for her chronic weakness. She tires very quickly and cannot stand up to gentle poisons. Throughout her chapters, it’s clear that this affects her mentally and along with Jovan’s well meaning but sometimes overbearing nature, she is always pushing herself to do more and proving her worth. Both characters have these serious illnesses and it could have been so easy to write them in a shallow way, as if just adding flavour, but Hawke pulled off the representation with aplomb. Being inside both characters’ heads lets us see that they are always affected by these conditions which are manifesting repeatedly and often at quite inopportune times. It becomes clear that Kalina and Jovan have some level of control over their illnesses and will never stop pushing against their limitations.

Interestingly while the Chancellor, Tain, doesn’t have any POV chapters he’s still very much an equally main character. It’s a testament to the authors skill that the reader can be as attached to him as the other two while only seeing a third-person view of him. All three characters work excellently together – none have a secret agenda and they’re all genuinely good people who want the best for everyone (going to great lengths to achieve peace, with patience to rival monks).

I have a couple of minor issues with the book, the pace suffers a bit just over half way through. There’s an army on their doorstep and everyone keeps reminding each other that they could crash through at any time but fortunately the army just chills outside for days. It’s never fully explained why they sat back for about five days but it was awfully convenient for the main characters as they had some serious in-house problems at the time.

There’s also some romance angst that’s just not needed. The romance in general is done well and the platonic friendships between the siblings and between them and Tain are excellent. It could have been easy to add some romance subplot between Tain and Kalina but keeping them as close friends was a breath of fresh air. However, there’s this angsty section that feels so unnecessary, it didn’t add anything to the relationship and made my eyes roll out their sockets.

Regardless, these issues are hardly worth worrying about since City of Lies is sublime in every other respect. It touches on some real-world issues like xenophobia and us-versus-them mentalities without getting preachy. The book highlights how easy it is to ignore the suffering of people not in your vicinity then just shut them down as lesser once they’re forced to turn violent.

“They had looked healthy enough, and had waved back so, nothing had challenged my basic assumption that an oppressed people would look thing and cowed and starving”

Throughout the book, the main characters are trying to find an explanation to the mysterious death of the Chancellor. Right off the bat, there’s only so many suspects but with barely anything to go on, the three characters are baffled. With occasional poisonings and red herrings, and despite some solid deductions made by the three, the mystery kept me guessing up until all was revealed. I’m not too versed in the mystery genre but that plus the mysterious is-it-real-maybe lore and the good, honourable characters made City of Lies a thrilling read. A sequel to this book isn’t strictly necessary but if there is one, I’ll be first in line.

The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark

The Tower of Living and Dying is the second instalment in the Empires of Dust trilogy and ticks all the boxes that a middle book should be ticking. Second books often fall into the trap of just being mostly filler or spending the majority of time setting up the final book but not this one. The Tower of Living and Dying instead just continues on immediately from The Court of Broken Knives. It’s easier to look at it as one long story broken up into separate volumes à la the First Law trilogy.

The Tower of Living and Dying begins with Marith coming home to the White Isles and dealing with the fallout he caused at the end of the last book. It very quickly becomes clear that he won’t be content with ruling just the Isles and almost immediately goes on to start assaulting the mainland cities. He takes Thalia along and her seeing him in full-on conqueror mode results in most of the strife between them. Meanwhile Orhan is trying to regain control and normalcy in the wake of the recent unrest in Sorlost. There are a few other POVs including a couple of new ones discussed below that really help flesh out the story from multiple angles.

Everyone who has read The Court of Broken Knives knows of Anna Smith Spark’s engrossing and almost aggressive style of writing. It’s not so much what she does as what she excludes. Casual neglect of grammatical rules and a lack of punctuation sound like they’d be a nightmare to read through, but it works incredibly well here. Every action scene contains these short rapid-style sentences:

“Everything utter confusion, pressed so tight, everything shattering. Shredded. Choking. Drowning in each other. Crushing too tight to breathe. Eyes staring, swallowing each other’s sweat. Everywhere swords and spears and horses and metal grinding remorseless against metal and skin and bone. Push. Push. Hold. The line wavering. Thrashing like a boy cracking a rope. Osen’s left burning. Osen’s left falling apart. Just hold.”

It’s exhausting reading these passages, it’s such a visceral description. The reader doesn’t really know what’s going on, what the bigger picture is in the moment but neither does the soldier. Spark also makes great use chapter lengths, a few times at climactic moments there are one-page chapters that just halt the action, letting the reader gear up for an act’s culmination. One in particular is just fourteen words, four sentences long but still conveys a sort of respite from the action and builds up anticipation for what happens next.

There are a few POVs but Marith continues to be the main character. He also continues to be detestable. He becomes exactly the kind of person who believes that they are the most important person in the world – except in this case, he actually is. He thinks little to nothing of others, able to casually obliterate an entire city over the perceived slight of one man. His true personality is revealed in one line in particular:

“The secret hidden pleasure of every human heart, that it is waiting to die and to kill”

He thinks this in the heat of a battle when he feels most alive, and attributes it to everyone, both sides. The reader knows – inherently and also through the knowledge of other POVs – that this is entirely untrue, but it does reveal Marith’s true feelings. Throughout almost the entire first book Marith is suicidal, content to let his addictions consume him. If he died, he wouldn’t have cared, and it is now clear that he holds other lives in the same disregard.

Marith’s relationship with Thalia is another example of his vain outlook. Any time he thinks of her, it’s always in a completely objectified manner. He can only see her as another one of his possessions as shown below. In fact, I don’t think that there is a single time that he looks at her and doesn’t remind himself how beautiful and fragile she is. Fortunately, throughout the book, Thalia starts to come out of her shell and is perpetually in flux regarding Marith. She repeatedly blames herself for the atrocities he commits and slowly pulls away from him. It’s a slow growth in character but it’s realistic and it should be fascinating to see its conclusion in the final book.

“[I should have] Left her safe with Matrina to wait on her and teach her good eastern ways, had her brought over in triumph, crowned and robed in gold”

I won’t go into much detail to avoid spoilers, but my favourite chapters were that of Lan and Tobias. I’m a sucker for points of view of privileged persons forced to live as commoners and how they react to it. Lan’s chapters make for an interesting perspective as she sees just how little the common White Isle folk care or are affected by the tumultuous events happening on their island. Tobias is a lot of fun to read, he’s basically a stand-in for the reader – on several occasions I found myself having the exact same reactions as he did to developments in the story. I’m looking forward to learning more about him in the final book; there are some questions dangled about his past that are not fully explored so I hope they get answered eventually.

The other storyline running in tandem with Marith’s is Orhan’s back in Sorlost. It heavily contrasts with Marith’s as opposed to armies clashing over and over, it’s politicians moving against each other trying to take control of one city. Instead of successful military tactics, it’s inelegant solutions to a steadily worsening situation. Orhan, through some trial and error, becomes quite adept at his realpolitik game. He gradually loses his morals to deal with his ever-sinking ship of a city. Darath on the hand is just way out of depth – put succinctly by Celyse as ‘a little, angry, blustering boy’. He was never my favourite in The Court of Broken Knives, but he truly shows his colours when things look bad and he suggests they run away from everything, leave all those who know and rely upon them to their deaths. Definitely in the running for least likeable character. It’s not helped by his and Orhan’s incredibly toxic relationship. I’m not sure if it’s meant to written the way it is but they yell and argue and break up and make up like teenagers; it’s exhausting to read (not in a good way).

There’s one more POV that was introduced in A Tower of Living and Dying. I don’t want to mention details, but I will say that it felt a little transparent. It was included only quite late into the book, as if it was afterthought, as if Spark realised she needed another POV in Sorlost to properly describe what was happening. I thought it was a useful insight in that regard but perhaps it should have been introduced earlier to be more organic.

I enjoyed The Court of Broken Knives, but I didn’t love it. The Tower of Living and Dying took everything good from its predecessor, refined it and included some great new additions. It doesn’t try to be its own story but is a clear continuation of the universe and leaves enough plot hooks left to be resolved in Empires of Dust 3. I don’t know where the next book is going (there’s still half the map to explore!) but I can’t wait to read it.

 
Note: I received an early copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to Anna, HarperVoyager and NetGalley for the copy.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority is the sequel to Annihilation in name and follows on directly after the twelfth expedition in the first book.  But if you’re (reasonably so) expecting a continuation of the biologist’s story, you’d be sorely mistaken. Reading this book straight after its predecessor could give you whiplash considering the change in environment. It goes from a weird adventure through a deadly ecosystem to a weird office bureaucracy. From being immersed in Area X to only getting tantalisingly close to the border.

The book follows the new Director of the Southern Reach who is optimistically called Control. His main task is to find out what happened to the latest expedition and report back to his handler. It becomes clear almost immediately that the facility is on its last legs; almost if not every department is being run by a skeleton crew who all seem to be varying degrees of peculiar, a side effect surely of working on such an odd assignment. The latest expedition is back – or more accurately, the biologist returns out of Area X, suddenly appearing in an empty car park.

Control spends the majority of the book trying to understand and control (sorry) the Southern Reach. Unfortunately, from the get go, he is challenged by the openly hostile Assistant Director and has to deal with bizarre staff like Whitby who seems to have gone slightly insane from his time there. With literally no one around to help and his handler ‘the Voice’ demanding results, Control retreats into his own little bubble and focuses on the biologist.

The interviews he has with the biologist are far and away the best parts of the book. She gives cryptic answers to almost every question which intrigues Control and the reader since in Annihilation she was entirely forthright and pragmatic. I think it’s natural that I gravitated towards these sections since we spend the entire last book in the biologist’s head, forming an attachment to her and these interviews are all that are offered.

“A circle looks at a square and sees a badly made circle.”

Unfortunately, they are only one section of quite a long book. Authority is twice as long as Annihilation, coming in at around 400 pages and I was fully aware of the length while reading. The book gets SO mundane for large chunks at a time. And not in a mundane fiction (Wayfarers, Autumn etc) but just red tape and office politics and brick wall after brick wall. Annihilation is perfectly paced, a short book that never lets up so when the sequel is 200 extra words of dragged out plot points, it is acutely obvious.

However, VanderMeer does keep up the ‘weird fiction’ theme, which actually is quite impressive considering an office isn’t exactly the weirdest setting. The book is interspersed with odd goings on every so often. Control’s paranoia slowly develops as he gets stuck into his investigation of the Southern Reach – he’s having odd dreams, there’s this mysterious (but familiar to the reader) sentence painted on a hidden wall in his office, there’s a phone with a seemingly invincible plant growing out of it in his desk and he’s being followed maybe. And there’s this one moment that absolutely blows anything from the first book out of the water. It’s so bizarrely creepy, I’m a little worried about how VanderMeer even conceived it. I won’t say any more but those who have read the book know what I’m talking about.

“Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives while from the dim-lit halls of other places forms that never could be writhe”

In standard Southern Reach fashion, for every question answered, ten more are asked – it follows Annihilation in that it’s not for a person who wants answers to everything going on. Some may be answered, some may be left for the third book and some are just left dangling for the reader to mull upon. I found Control to be a far less interesting MC than the biologist was. I wonder if that is the point since we learn far more about his life and childhood and he really can just be summed up as ‘bland’. Maybe the point is show what a normal, generic person would react to the various stimuli of the Southern Reach. Maybe I’m grasping for straws, looking for an explanation where there is none.

Authority is about the building of dread – the slow accretion of things going just a little but wrong. About men and women already so broken by the past that they appear collectively blind (or wilfully ignorant) to the rot spreading around them. Until a moment comes that changes their world that they and we never see coming. This is where the true skill of VanderMeer is shown. Like the characters, we’re so caught up in the monotony of Control’s day to day that we accept all the little terrible things happening around him until it all gets turned upside down.

I’d have preferred more adventure in Area X, more discovery of what it is but that’s a low hanging fruit storyline. Re-treading the first book would have been the easy sequel, instead he switched it up to follow the human side of Area X. Even if I didn’t enjoy it as much, I can respect the decision. For those who liked the ‘what the fuck’ weird, insidious feeling you got reading Annihilation then you’ll like Authority. If you like the adventure, the discovery of a new ecosystem, this book is not going to gel with you.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation was my first foray into the new weird genre and man, it was a deep end if there is one. The premise is basic enough: There is a mysterious, untouched coastline somewhere in the US that, years ago, had suddenly and inexplicably become host to a bizarre new ecosystem. It is quarantined and referred to as Area X by the Southern Reach, a secretive government agency. All the prior expeditions sent into Area X resulted in disasters – the explorers committed mass suicide, killed each other, developed fatal cancers. The twelfth expedition consists of four women – a surveyor, an anthropologist, a psychologist and a biologist (the main character). The biologist is an intriguing character; she’s described as being very distant from others, most comfortable when analysing microorganisms on the coast of Ireland, far away from human contact. She is remarkedly pragmatic when confronted with the unknown and comes off as a little alien herself:

“A religious or superstitious person, someone who believed in angels or in demons, might see it differently. Almost anyone else might see it differently. But I am not those people, I am just the biologist; I don’t require any of this to have a deeper meaning.”

VanderMeer doesn’t ease the reader in but instead starts to throw questions into the air almost immediately. After less than 24 hours the team is disagreeing about basic discoveries. Is this tunnel going underground we found important? Is it a tunnel or a shaft? Or a tunnel? Should we continue on to lighthouse stay here? Why is the tunnel not on the map?

The biologist soon realises that the secret government agency has ulterior motives (shocker!) and that their leader, the psychologist has her own goals. It soon becomes clear that the mission is a farce – equipment is all broken or anachronistic, their extensive astronaut-like training is irrelevant and they are not even fully in control of themselves.

Everything VanderMeer does is carefully added to keep everything bizarre – without names and with their fields of expertise made irrelevant almost instantly after entering Area X, the team is defined only by their bare emotions (the surveyor is aggressive, the psychologist is peculiar, the biologist is curious, the anthropologist is anxious). The expedition team are made to bring outdated technology They are told this to help to keep outside influences out but is it really? Hypnosis stops the team leaving and soon the reader comes to realise maybe the experiment isn’t to see what Area X is but to see how the women react when immersed in bizarre stimuli.

I’ve mentioned hypnosis a few times and I think that its inclusion is really the only real weakness in the novel. VanderMeer relies on the concept of hypnosis quite strongly and in this weird, fantastical environment it’s the almost mind control powers that come off as least believable. Characters forget entire days due to it, they fall into comatose positions, their minds easily malleable from just a single word. I don’t know if hypnosis is actually that powerful in real life but it ruined the immersion just for a moment.

When I first picked up Annihilation I was mildly surprised at how short it was. But the length works in its favour; it doesn’t let up for a moment. The story is constantly being pushed forward, there’s no time to ponder each new revelation as another is thrown at the reader. VanderMeer could have easily filled it out to 400 pages by pausing the story and including backstory on the biologist, on Area X or starting it earlier in the timeline. But he chooses not to. He chooses to start as they enter the area and gives little to no explanations about what is going on. The reader is at an equal loss for knowledge as the biologist – or even more so considering she herself is such an enigma.

It constantly keeps the reader on their toes with a consistently eerie mood throughout. Every page is full of mystery – cryptic writing on the walls of the tunnel with run on sentences that rival dickens, a deep voice coming from somewhere in the swamp, plants that appear to contain human matter within them. I was never really able to feel relaxed throughout but like the biologist who just keeps trucking through, what else can she do, I just keep reading – both of us expecting that eventually everything will be explained.

But that’s the crux of the book. There are few answers. If you’re the type of reader who likes their mysteries explained by the end Sherlock Holmes style, you’re going to be unsatisfied with this. That doesn’t mean to say it’s a bad ending, it’s not, it’s excellent. It’s ambiguous, open to interpretation, just explained enough (that is to say, barely at all) and almost forcing me to start its sequel, Authority.