Book Review: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear


Rating:  ★★

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Blurb (from GoodReads):

Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants.

She thinks she knows who she is.

She is wrong.

Admittedly- I left out a lot of that blurb (you can read the whole blurb in the link above).  I only put in what I felt was actually relevant to the book.

This was a DNF for me. I made it to 70% and I didn’t even have the desire to skip to the end and see how it played out. I’m putting the content warnings up here in case you don’t want to read my spoiler laden review: suicide bombings, death of partners, abduction, references to a hive mind/cult, murder of children.

This is not what I expected it to be. In the full blurb, I saw space salvage and space pirates and expected a thrilling action filled plot. Maybe a cat and mouse game, maybe some subterfuge. Some twists and turns.

There are twists and turns, but they are not the kind you’re thinking. This is not an action driven plot. This is the character study of a woman who was raised in a cult (called clade in the book). Turn back now if you don’t want spoilers because I can’t explain why I’m not finishing this without them.

It’s five hundred pages of mostly inner monologue: Haimey suffering anxiety from past trauma, second guessing herself every step of the way, and auto-tuning her brain chemicals as a form of medical treatment. I mean- it’s by no means my kind of book no matter how you look at that, and I was bored to tears, but even that was not why I quit reading.

(Again, major spoilers ahead.) I quit reading because at some point the person holding Haimey convinces her to let her unblock memories that were “reconned,” (buried/blocked/written over). When Haimey remembers what actually happened she finds out her clade was basically a terrorist cult (I mean all cults are terrorists of a kind, but I’m referring specifically to the suicide bomber sort.)

When the full truth of Haimey’s identity is realized, she remembers that when the clade is caught, instead of allowing themselves to be separated and reconned themselves, they kill each other, and all the children.

That’s a hard pass for me. I’m sorry. It’s a hard pass for me in tv, in movies. I just don’t want to deal with it or think about it for any period of time.

I do have a lot of respect for Bear as an author, I think she is incredibly talented and imaginative. I liked her book Carnival for the society and world building. There was some cool tech and some hints of societal structure here, but none of it was straightforward enough to really grasp and analyze which is what I was hoping for.

I don’t think it was all pointless. There is probably a very interesting discussion to be had about the implications of medicating or the possibility of overmedicating as a way to avoid confrontation and coping with life. (And I am not passing judgement on any of this- you’d have to read it to understand what I mean.)

So- I’m giving it two stars even though I didn’t finish. I think for someone that isn’t bothered by what I’ve stated above and goes into it expecting a character study will have a field day with this novel. It just isn’t for me.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Saga Press for providing me with an eARC to review.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

  1. Pingback: Three Mini Book Reviews | Hamlets & Hyperspace

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