Woooh, this book was an amazing adventure! It’s definitely my favorite fiction work not associated with The Expanse that I’ve read all year. And phew, it came just in time, since the last few fiction books that I’ve read were a little well…let’s just say under par.
The pacing of the book I think was my favorite part about it. Oftentimes, stories take awhile to build up before coming to a climax where everything happens. Not with this book! We’re thrown right into the action from the get go, and we learn about our characters as we go. This approach also lead to we, the readers, not knowing who the protagonists are initially, and I loved that. You don’t know who the main characters are vs the side characters; you don’t even know who necessarily is the good guy or bad guy; heck, you don’t know who lives or dies (and at least one person who I thought was a protagonist straight up DIES).
I’d go so far as to say this isn’t really a sci fi book, though it has sci fi elements. It is an action book, and we’re along for the ride.
But more than that, the other major things I loved about this book were its unpredictability, and the fact that it referenced real life historical events, explaining them pretty reasonably with sci-fi elements in the book. The Spanish Flu? The Dark Ages? The fact that almost every culture on earth has a story with a huge flood as part of it? Even 9/11? All weaved right into the story.
And the creme de la creme? The little story within a story that we get, as one of the protagonists reads a journal, and how the events within that journal come full circle back to the main storyline. It was perfectly executed, and I loved it.
Okay, let’s get spoiler-y. Do NOT read the rest until you’ve read this book
The story within a story
My favorite part of this book was Kate’s dad’s journal, how it helped to explain what was going on, and how the events in it ended up tying back to the main story. I was in the middle of a vacation in the national parks of the US when I got that section, and I found myself stopping on hikes to read “just one more chapter.”
It was a nice break from the nonstop action that David and Kate were experiencing up to that point. The journal was riveting, and helped to fill in the backstory of what exactly was going on, talking about the Immaru / Immari split and to help flesh out the motivations of the Immari, the main antagonists in the story.
The big reveal
Undoubtedly, the big reveal in this book is where you figure out that it’s Kate’s dad that wrote the above referenced journal, and that several of the characters in the journal are alive and kicking in the current timeline, though under different names.
Maybe I’m slow, but I definitely did NOT see that coming. As I tried to piece together that Name A from the journal = Name B from the present, it did get a little confusing, but I thought it was really well done. Everything ties in together really well, and the motivations behind why people are doing what become a lot clearer. Certain Immari higher ups are driven by the desire for power; others are driven by the Immari core mission, to help protect humanity, no matter the human cost; others are slightly conflicted and are just here because they are making the worst of a bad situation. It really fleshes things out well beyond “The Immari are bad just ‘cause”
Speaking of the devil, I really liked the Immari as group of antagonists. I have to say, without knowing what kind of evil they’re trying to protect us against, at least a small part of me understands what they are trying to do, and thinks that…well…maybe they’re right. Sometimes you have to sacrifice people to save the everyone. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” and all that.
The book tries to paint them as evil, self serving eugenics folks that just want to kill a bunch of people in a misguided attempt to save the human race, but what if they’re right? What if the only way to fight back is to genetically progress the human race forward? Yes, millions will die, but millions will ALSO be saved! In fact, if the Immari are right, that makes David and Kate the antagonists in this story, dooming the human race, and it’s because of them that 7 million people (everyone) die instead of just 3-5 million people.
It’s an interesting concept, and I hope that the story explores it further in the next books. It would be quite the interesting turnaround if in fact the Immari turn out to be correct after all.
All the tie ins to world events
But perhaps what really drew me into the story was the references to real life historical events. So little is known about the Spanish flu, other than that “a bunch of people died and we don’t really know why”. Literally millions died. The Atlantis Gene proposes that it was an accident, that the Bell did it, and I find that fascinating. This fiction book actually motivated me to go and do some research about the Spanish Flu, something which I barely knew about at all before.
Ditto with the references to the Dark Ages. Entire centuries passed, and we went *backwards* as a species in terms of our development. That’s astonishing when you think about the difference between 2016 and 1996, let alone 1906, just 100 years earlier. But during the Dark Ages? Nope. Backwards. And there’s no real way to study it in real life because well…there’s so very little to study.
I especially found the tie ins to human development interesting. I knew that there were neanderthals and that we out-survived them, but I didn’t realize there were also a subspecies of primates called hobbits in real life, and that the more science delves into our origins, the more human subspecies that we find. It’s fun to learn real facts in my fiction books!
One of the other things that I enjoyed most about this book was the story’s unpredictability. I predicted very little of what was to come, which honestly is very hard to do as an author. So Kudos, A.G. Riddle. I did not expect The Bell to be a time dilation device in addition to a murder device. I did not expect Kate’s dad to be the author of the journal. I did not expect to learn that both Dorian Sloan and Kate were actually born around WWI, and were stuck in the stasis/healing chambers until recently. I did not expect that David Vale would be betrayed by the person he trusted most in Clocktower.
The punches kept coming, and, once you knew the full story and the character’s intentions, made tons of sense. Even the little things were done well, like Dorian having had sex with Kate in the past and then leaving her as a sort of middle finger to her dad.
I read this book knowing in the back of my mind that this was a trilogy, but honestly, this book could be a stand alone book very easily. The loose ends are mostly tied up, the primary antagonist and one of the primary protagonists are well…dead, so you could easily end the story here on that bittersweet ending.
I know some reviews will say this book moved a little too quickly, didn’t flesh things out very well, and played out more like a movie than a book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the unpredictability, the pacing, the motivations behind the antagonists, and the science-based explanations for major events in history. I already bought the other two books in the series, and am starting soon. This is going to be great!