“One doesn’t attract support before fighting, one fights to attract support. It’s a way of showing that things cannot continue as usual, of showing that resistance is possible.”
The newest addition to the Science-Fantasy subgenre, New Weird, is Rjurik Davidson. His novel, Unwrapped Sky, is one of those rare stories that manages to blur the lines between technology and magic, characterization and plot, and what is truly black or white. There’s beautiful imagination tucked in every page, and soon world-building becomes his greatest asset. And his double-edged sword.
Caeli-Amur is in turmoil. There is a revolution brewing for the hearts and minds of the common folk. At the forefront of this battle is Maximillian, a young and egotistical magician. He wants a change in power because history demands it. However, his violent tactics conflict with the tramworker, Boris Autec. He wishes to seek reform through a rise in power. But along the way, he loses his goals for lust and a tight control. Thus, the man employs a philosopher-assassin, Kata, to spy on the seditionists and one day take them down.
Of course, none of this goes according to plan, especially when love and aliens get in the way.
So one would expect a dark and twisting tale in the dank streets of the city, (or perhaps in the sunken “Atlantis” of Caeli-Enas) cutthroats wrestling for power while flipping to grand escapades of heroic plebian fights. But this is a political novel not just in its representation of class structure but also where power by a word or wave of the finger is what is treasured. Philosophers debate in the street over what is needed to fix the city, but the real solution is a man to act on it.
The three Houses appear to hold control, but that’s far from the case. They crush strikes in the factory districts with otherworldly beings, thaumaturgical magic from another plane of existence. This can incite the populace to fight back at times while others are met as crushing blows to the opposition.
“They lead the citizens astray with wild notions, manipulate the impressionable, use legitimate grievances for their own malign ends.”
But what I love the most in this gritty city is that no person is black or white. They are simply creatures trying to eke out a better existence. People do bad things for the right reasons. Maximillian gets stuck in his head for knowledge and fights the world (both people and Nature) for unification and peace, but does just as many wrong actions as the Houses. We are shown the corruption of most revolutions. We see that powder kegs are not lit by ideas.
Kata, the disillusioned spy working for House Technis, kills for a pay, but it’s often times against her will. Still, who’s to say this is right? She has a choice, doesn’t she? And quite frankly, I doubt she cares.
And Boris, probably the deepest and most repulsive character of the three POVs, learns the hard way that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
It is a brilliant cast set on the backdrop of a brilliant city; a multi-layered place that breathes just like its citizens. There is a depth to its history that amazes me.
“’We all stand on our past, Boris. Without our past, who are we?’”
From the very first page, Davidson paints a vivid picture of a land occupied by Minotaurs, men made of machines, and fish slaves. Verbosity is truly his greatest gift. It helps create a wondrous and immersive world. I’m finding that often times authors that have established themselves in the New Weird niche focus predominately on the little things.
I have no problem with exploring an underwater cavern for the entirety of one chapter, so long as the descriptions are able to keep me afloat. But at times, Davidson’s ability to play with ideas messes with the pacing.
That’s the reason it took me a while to finish this debut. Toward the end, however, plot takes precedence and reigns the sluggish pacing along. Until then, though, we’re faced with moving pieces around for the coming revolution.
Which brings me to the resolution.
It was a nice ending, full of an almost empty win and foreboding wait for what’s to come. But while change is on the horizon, I think Davidson could’ve cut the last act out entirely, save maybe the one POV switch to Armand.
In the end, if you like your Science-Fantasy blended together with the strangest of things and topped off with a healthy dose of gray, sharp politics, then I can’t recommend this book enough. It can be a grind to get through the middle, but it more than makes up for that as you near the finish line.
Like the sea of potential in the finale, I can’t wait to see what Davidson does next.
“Sometimes small evils needed to be performed for a greater good.”
*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*