The Waking Engine by @DavidEdison

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An ARC was provided NetGalley in exchange for fair review.

Summary:


Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.

Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker.

Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.

Review:

I almost don’t know where to begin with a book like this. Should I start with the gorgeous, almost literary-novel style of writing that invokes a dream-like trance from the get-go? Or the imagery that is gorgeous yet horrifying at the same time? Or what about the intricate world-building where the smallest details bear more signs of thought and creativity than some entire books enjoy? Or the maturity of the title that goes beyond simple “adult” tropes of violence, language and sex (though those too exist?)

If it isn’t already apparent, I am in awe of this book. So rarely do I stumble across something this unique, this lovingly crafted. All too often, even the best of sci-fi/fantasy can feel familiar, and a good tweak to the familiar tropes can feel refreshing. This though? This feels new. Even the parts that seem familiar still feel refreshingly overhauled.

This is a novel about death and Death. Death being the True Death, that, just as the version in True Blood implies, means a permanent and lasting finality from which there is no recovery. In the universe of this book, we all die. We are all reborn. And so we live countless lives until ending up in the City Unspoken, where the story goes, those who have earned salvation will be allowed to finally Die and end their existence. But then people stop Dying and instead start going insane.It’s up to Cooper, a New Yorker caught up in the madness, to figure out what is going on and to try and stop it.

I really enjoyed Cooper as a protagonist. We spend the first part of the book almost in his shoes, just trying to get our bearings in a world of which we know nothing and seems crazier (and creepier) the more we get to know it. Then, as he gains his footing so too comes back hints of the man Cooper must have been in his life back on Earth, complete with a full on New York attitude. He feels so ordinary and Edison constructs his introduction to the City Unspoken so well that you pull for him because you want to see him regain control of his life, such as it now stands. He’s hardly the only interesting character in this play, however. Purity Kloo, the daughter of the Circle Unspoken gives us insight into those trapped inside the Dome and represents the inherent corruption of power. We have the antagonist, the Cicatrix, a truly horrifying creation and her daughter Llalowë who is no less sadistic and well on her to becoming as crazy as her mother. We meet reincarnations of Cleopatra and Walt Whitman, who are recognizable, yet tweaked so that their placement in the world fits and is fitting of their current existence.

This is a book I hesitate to speak too much more about when it comes to the plot, because it really should be experienced as if you are Cooper and learning what the City Unspoken’s secrets are for yourself. It’s a book that is meant to be savored and not downed in a single gulp. I fully admit that when I first started reading this book, I’d stop every so often and bookmark bits and pieces that caught my eye. It’s a book I’d read bits and pieces of and digest and then come back for more.

Overall, this is one of those books that is written so well, and so creative in its world that I think it’s a book I’d ultimately recommend to anyone I know that loves books, regardless of whether or not they normally read in this genre. Creativity on this level is simply a rare and precious thing these days, and we need to let publishers know that we value it so they continue to invest in authors like Mr. Edison.

Verdict: Buy it. Books this well written and creative just don’t come along often. Though we aren’t even two weeks into the year, I will be very surprised if this doesn’t make it onto my best of 2014

Available: February 11, 2014.

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