Tor Science Fiction
Size:4 3/16 x 6 3/4 inches
[Crystal Rain came out sometime in 2006, and to me it seems like it came out in a blaze of quiet-but-gradually-loudening hype. I got my copy back in 2007, which is when it got paperbacked(?). Tobias Buckell was very kindly giving away copies to those reviewers who contacted him and asked nicely. I emailed, I asked, and a while later I got my own copy of Crystal Rain, complete with a little note from Mr. Buckell, saying he hoped I liked it... But I was in the tail end of my MA-writing at the time, so I took a break from the blog for what was meant to be two months or less.
Almost a year later, I am back, and now I have a backlog of books to write about, but before I do, I must apologise:
Dear Tobias Buckell,
I received your book years ago and I read it, but I didn't review it on my blog. This is mostly because I wasn't blogging at all, and I was what we shall politely call "ill". Since I had read the novel and liked it and it only takes somewhere between one and two hours for me to write a semi-coherent review, I have only a "sorry" and no excuses, and no excuses. It should not have happened and I've let us both down - and I will be more productive from now on.]
Crystal Rain’s main strength, the one that made it an utter delight to read, is clear right from its opening line. The prologue – and thusly the novel – is extremely visual, and beautifully visualised. (For some reason that I cannot pin down – something about the description of the landscapes, though they are both very different landscapes – it reminds me of The Grapes of Wrath, which pretty much means I froth at the brain with automatic love.)
The defence of Nanagada rests on the fact that the Mafolie Pass is impenetrable. But the Aztecas – our homogenised villains – have worked for centuries to build a tunnel through. It’s clear from the beginning why we side with the Nangada peoples – aside from the fact that they house most of the main characters – they are an eclectic multi-racial (multi-sub-racial?), multi-tongued people, with different skin-tones, locations, religions, dialects and languages. The Azteca are homogenised, worshipping the rather monstrous Teotl, who have an agenda beyond “mere” domination of land and peoples.
Another strength – I’ve seen a review or two that do not agree with me here, but what the hey – was the variety of dialect as we move from one place to another, one people to another. I like the narrative techniques Buckell uses to place characters in the same conversation in different worlds, visible to the readers as though they stood wrapped in flags.
The Nanagadans and the Azteca have both inherited a superior technology from their ancestors, but they no longer know how to work them. The novel follows two main plotlines – the Azteca move in on Nanagada lands, getting closer to Capitol City, defended by Prime Minister Dihanna and General Haiden, while John de Brun, a man with no memory of his past, must race aganst Teotl and Azetaca spies to reach the mythical Ma Wi Jung, which hopfully guarantees victory to whomever has it.
Dihanna and Haiden work unsupported by the City Council or the Vodun priests to the Loa (ancient, emaciated gods with organic, as opposed to ancient mechanical technology). John must battle his own gaping emotional sorrows – the loss of his wife and son, the slow return of his memories – while trying to find people he can trust to help him find the Ma Wi Jung.
(Enter Oaxyctl [O-ash-k-tul], an Azteca double agent who has ulterior motives, and Pepper. Pepper is mysterious, knows John from “before”. Pepper is a badass. All across my notes I have “PIAB” scrawled at random intervals. Pepper exists to be a badass, and a wonderful, sexy badass he is too. He could be removed from the plot entirely without too much damage, but the novel would suffer something of a loss. No one is as bad as Pepper.)
Dihanna must struggle to hold together a threatened and fractious people, and John’s plotline makes it clear that we’re not dealing with the tribal steampunk concerns of a single continent. This is just one part of a larger epic, spanning several planets and alien races – and whoever wins this battle might still not affect the war. (But that’s a story for another novel.)
The novel moves steadily to its final denouement. This is a quick, fluid read, with consistent characters (not necessarily as deeply-fleshed as we would like, but not patchy or incomprehensible.). Oaxyctl, in particular, is an intriguing character.
I wasn’t thrilled with the few women with agency we’re shown – mostly they don’t seem to be very happy with their power, or always competent. It’s not a novel about families or love. It’s a very masculine novel, about Heroes in times of War – and while that is not a bad thing (Pepper is SUCH a badass) it makes my inner feminazi slightly sad.
The entire world is incredibly detailed, and while we do not see all of it, what we do see is clear and coherent. (I would love to see this serialised, but then again maybe they would mess it up and I would hate it. I do feel like it would make a very nice mini-series, and it wouldn’t need much cutting. There’s little unnecessary nattering, and save for one character of whom I could not see the point – teenaged boys are always pointless, from my perspective – there is nothing that would need to be pruned away. And it would look and sound so good!
So that is a lot of wittering to finally tell you that Crystal Rain is a gripping, fluid, action-packed read, with intense characters who kick ass and save the day! You should get your hands on it and read it asap.