Throwback Thursday: Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer


Hello friends!  Today I’m doing something incredibly lazy and sharing with you a review I wrote way back in 2017.  I’m calling it Throwback Thursday. The good news is- I promise to only share books I really loved on Throwback Thursday.  Mostly because I want to spread the love for my favorite books that never had the opportunity to be posted here on Hamlets & Hyperspace.  My hope is that maybe you’ll discover a new-to-you favorite.

Just so you are aware- I rated this book 4 stars and not 5.  It is also not a book I can blanket recommend to everyone.  I read it as part of a group (spoiler heavy discussion here).  There were many individuals who hated it, many who did not finish.  Though I love this book- I don’t fault a single one of those readers and I’m not even questioning why.

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This is going to be an incoherent review, so I’ll apologize right off the bat. This is not an easy book. It was 430 pages of struggle for me. There are few info dumps. The style is different. Mycroft Canner (the main character) is writing this book in the style of the 18th century (sort of- most of the book is written perfectly normally) to address someone reading it from the future. He frequently addresses the reader, breaking the flow of the narrative to address the reader in “thee” and “thou” and ask you questions and make arrogant assumptions about how you feel.

There are few info dumps about the world and how it came to be because he thinks you are reading this from 400 years in the future, or thereabouts, and would therefore, presumably know much of what he is telling you about the history of the world. So no info dumps. Sort of.

To give you a quick and dirty run down, of which I will undoubtedly miss many points, it’s like this: the book is set in the future, where people have cool clothes that change with what they think, or make them invisible, or boots that are also weapons, visors that allow them to see what other people see and have text message conversations with people, or call them directly. They have trackers which track (obviously) and call police and monitor heart beats and give or deny security clearance. There is no more talk of gender, no more he and she. Women can choose not to grow breasts if they wish and so hide their physical sex. Clothes are genderless. They have anti-aging drugs and average life expectancy is over 150. People are often adopted into familial units called ‘bash(es?) where the ba’kids might be chinese, the ba’pa european, and the ba’ma indian. When the ba’kids grow up they can choose to belong to one of several hives, based on what they desire or find important in life and start a new ‘bash with their spouse. There is no war. There is no organized religion. Religious questions may be directed to your sensayer, whose training allows them to cover questions and matters of all religions, and it is always private, and proselytizing is definitely not allowed. Most people speak more than one language, with latin being reserved for the elite.

You wouldn’t think this would be a mystery plot, but it is. It begins with a boy named Bridger, who can “miracle” things into existence. Toys and pictures come to life, cures [for illness] and food made from paper. Mycroft has some sort of master plan for Bridger, but what is it? Then this thing called the Seven Ten list is stolen and I still can’t exactly tell you why it’s important other than to expose mysteries within mysteries [this is still true for me two years and two more Terra Ingota books later]. Just as you think your’e figuring something out, some bomb is dropped on you about someone’s identity, or past events or motives. I’ll be blunt, the Seven Ten list plot was kind of boring and confusing and I just didn’t care all that much about it. It’s the mysteries within the mysteries that will keep you reading, and there are OH SO MANY.

So Mycroft, I love, weirdly, if you read it you’ll find out why that’s weird. I did like the writing, if the style of writing was sometimes off-putting. The pacing could be slow at times and very fast at others. The chapters feel long and the book dense in general. The world building was both exactly what I’d want from a meaty sci-fi book and also somehow incredibly imaginative. The setting was beautiful and I’d absolutely love to see it recreated in CGI someday.

But, the book confused me a lot. Many people have many names and many titles and Mycroft will often point out a physical sex and a gender identification while everyone else refers to them as they and it can be difficult to follow. Thanks to the sensayers, there are lots of parts where the characters are debating or relaying philosophy to the reader, Voltaire, Marx, and many others I can’t name. Some paragraphs are written in latin and translated directly after and it was just unnecessary words on the page. The parts where Mycroft breaks off to address the reader were also sometimes tiresome and I just wanted to get to the story, but in the end, I am absolutely 100% DYING to find out what happens next, so for that much, I give it four stars.

Overall- an intriguing and thought provoking read that I’d definitely recommend to anyone interested in any of the many things I’ve mentioned above.

**End old review**

Having re-read this- it isn’t exactly a glowing review.  A lot of my love for this book came through discussion with other readers.  If you had asked me while I was reading it?  I would have told you – this is a Utopia.  No pollution, no war, no discrimination on any basis, stable economy, no prison.  <— It sounds pretty utopian right?

Until another reader began to point out that a lack of gender expression, a lack of religious expression, the ability to congregate with other people who share your beliefs, all sounded a lot more dystopian then utopian.  Suddenly my understanding of this book and all of it’s contents were flipped on it’s head.

If you can’t solve the issue of religious wars by banning religion in public… how the hell do you solve it?  Suddenly I had to re-think everything I had already thought about the book.  I was seeing it through a new lens with that one question alone.  How many other questions are there for me to ask and find a completely different answer?

Those last two paragraphs are absolutely what I adored about this book (aside from Mycroft, who is an enigma all his own).  Nothing on the surface is as it seems.  Reading it the first time will be one hundred percent different from reading it a second time.  Reading it again after reading the other two (three- someday!) books in the series will make it a completely different book.

Next week I will follow up this Throwback Thursday with my Five Star review of Seven Surrenders, Book Two in the Terra Ignota series, and hopefully this review will make a little more sense.




6 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer

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