Something More Than Night Hardcover – December 3, 2013
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“The Coldest War is like a cross between the devious, character-driven spy fiction of early John le Carré and the mad science fantasy of the X-Men…eloquent and utterly compelling.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“An excellent journey into an alternate Britain and should please fans of Harry Turtledove and Naomi Novik.” ―Library Journal on The Coldest War
“A white-knuckle plot, beautiful descriptions, and complex characters--an unstoppable Vickers of a novel.” ―Cory Doctorow on Bitter Seeds
“Bitter Seeds may rival Naomi Novik's Tales of Temeraire as a sustained historical fantasy.” ―Booklist
About the Author
IAN TREGILLIS is the author of the Milkweed Tryptich--Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War and Necessary Evil. He lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he works as a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In addition, he is a member of the George R. R. Martin Wild Cards writing collective.
- Publisher : Tor Books; 1st edition (December 3, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0765334321
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765334329
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.43 x 1.01 x 9.49 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,039,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The plot is smart and liberally interspersed with misdirection and disguise, but it's also laid out with love and care and attention: elements are introduced smoothly and things that don't quite make sense initially often end up having very good explanations down the road. Luckily it's not a case of "full Chekhov's gun" - something is just there because it's cool or interesting or, again, misdirection - so I can safely promise you there's no way you can guess what's really going on before the last act, and even then there's stil a lot of surprises to be had.
Thematically, I don't have much to add to other reviews; on the other hand, there's nowhere near enough praise for the style, which I found delicious. I've never been a big fan of hard-boiled detective stories (closest I've wandered is Donald E. Westlake) yet I immensely enjoyed the slang and the attitude and the fact that, most of the time, I was unsure if I was supposed to take it ironically or earnestly. Turns out I was right =).
The first-person Dashiel Hammet hommage counts for half of the novel; rather unexpectedly the rest is written from a (close) third-person point of view, and the freedom from the hommage allows Tregillis' prose to really shine. Both halves cover some quite complicated topics and situations, but in the "noir" half they're almost taken as granted, whereas in the other half the reader gets to see their utter otherness and actually understand what's going on. This requires some clever, almost experimental, solutions (how do you describe something that can't be experienced?) but the result is never deliberately obscure or artsy for the sake of being artsy - it just works.
Finally, the characters are genuinely interesting and mostly relatable, even when they're completely otherworldly - the first-person POV one is definitely more bigoted than one woulld expect these days (there are excellent reasons for that), but that's abundantly offset by the third-person one and the surrounding cast.
One last note: reading this novel will definitely challenge many assumptions, and being interested in (or at least somewhat curious about) topics like physics and theology and philosophy is probably a prerequisite to get the full experience. Still, if you're somewhere near me in the Venn diagram of interests, I can promise you're gonna love it.
But who killed Gabriel? And why are mortals getting plenary indulgences? And why is the plenum suddenly forming topological abnormalities that none of the angelic host has ever witnessed?
Unfortunately, for me, the set-up is better than the delivery. The author, Ian Tregillis, forms the conceit of presenting Bayliss as a down on his luck private detective hailing from the 1930s. Bayliss's dialogue is nothing but Hard Boiled Detective slang from the 1930's - "roundheels" and "loogans" and "doll" and "frail" - and the radio in the diner that passes as his hang-out - his personally designed bit of heaven (called in this book a "magisterium") - is perpetually playing a game involving Joe Dimaggio. This can lead to some fun bits such as:
//"Better get some nails, doll. Your math isn't bad but that last step is loose. Someone's going to trip on it."//
Tregillis, Ian (2013-12-03). Something More Than Night (Kindle Locations 5267-5268). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
Do it mentally in the voice of Humphrey Bogart and you've got gold.
Unfortunately, it gets old after a while. By 75% of the way into the book I was entirely annoyed and fed up with Bayliss and his constant Hard Boiled Detective cliches.
Fortunately, by 80% of the way into the book, the reason for this idiom is given a plausible reason within the structure of the book, and the book redeemed itself to the extent of my willingness to give it a marginal "It's Okay."
Beyond the laying on of the hard-boiled detective cliches to the extent of over-loading my "willing suspension of disbelief" meter, I had problems with the characters. I congenitally wanted to like Bayliss, despite the fact that our hero Mollie clearly didn't like him and Bayliss was constantly sending her off on missions of her own such that the two didn't interact with each other. (Again, that works out within the logic of the story, but it makes for an unsympathetic character.) As for Mollie, I guess it is enough that she is a lesbian and so understands the meaning of oppression, because as a character she was narcissistic and unsympathetic. I mean, sure Bayliss killed her, but she did wake up as an immortal angel, and, yet, her big complaint is that he left a mark on the perfect floor of her dream apartment floor?
The metaphysical/theological elements are window-dressing. It's terrific that Tregillis could rip-off Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite for the names of the 9 choirs of angels, but why? Why are there these nine discrete kinds of angels, when all they want to do is scatter to the ends of the pleroma. God is not a figure in the story at all, but Metatron, the voice of God, is, and apparently has big plans.
Also, a student of St. Thomas Aquinas and Catholic theology, I found Tregillis' appropriation of Catholic theology problematic. I think it was great that he correctly described the doctrine of plenary indulgences, i.e., confession, perfect detachment from sin, some charitable work and prayers for the Pope. On the other hand, in the same scene, we see the hardening of a different kind of doctrine:
//"Uh-huh. And by being openly gay I was committing a mortal sin, of course. I had full knowledge of what I was doing. In Santorelli's eyes, and my parents', I was making a deliberate lifestyle choice with mortal consequences."
Tregillis, Ian (2013-12-03). Something More Than Night (Kindle Locations 4058-4060). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
Well, no. "Being openly gay" isn't a mortal sin in Catholicism, albeit acts not in conformity with Catholic teachings can be sins, but perhaps not mortal sins, insofar as the act is not the result of deliberation, is not the result of free choice, is not known to be sinful, etc. So, we get another bit of gratuitous stereotyping from the anti-Catholic kultursmog.
This wasn't the worst thing about the book, but it was, like I said, gratuitous, almost as if the formula required a bit of lesbian bonding over how it would be the most awful thing for Catholic lesbians to be Catholic and not lesbian and how parents are who are worried about their children's eternal destiny are totally hateful because obviously they are theologically wrong.
The angelic world that Tregillis describes is a secular angelic world. There is no heaven. People die and stay dead. Angels are aliens who have contempt for the human monkeys. Metatron may care about humans but not for a million years, it seems. Angels, too, are oppressed; they have been bound by Metatron to stay together so that their ability to work the stuff of the Pleroma can create the MOC - the "Mantle of Ontological Consistency" - the least common denominator of angelic ideas that actually forms the metaphysical substructure of the visible universe.
Long story short, this is not a book with any deep insights that will leave you wondering about metaphysics or theology.
Global warming and human caused space catastrophe elements are also referenced throughout the book, but like choirs of angels, that is just more window dressing to distract the reader, rather than items that are essential - or helpful - to the plot or story.
I think the plot line worked. I was surprised by the reveal at the end, although I had lost interest by the time of the reveal in the characters, particularly Bayliss for being a cliche. Perhaps the answer is simply that the set-up took too long.
It is not a bad book. The treatment of angels and ontology are different. There are few chuckles from the Hard Boiled Detective cliches. But the parts of this book are better than the whole.
Top reviews from other countries
There's nothing about this book that's not to love. The story works, it's suspenseful and interesting. The characters are well defined and the prose is tight. I couldn't put it down.