As children, Patricia and Laurence were equally awkward but in different ways. Laurence wanted nothing to do with going outdoors, preferring instead to tinker with technology. He even managed to create a simple two-second time machine, which is handier than you might think. Patricia loved getting grubby outdoors, instead of staying indoors and tidy like her sister, Roberta. And it turns out that nature took an interest in Patricia—she discovered she could talk to animals, among other things.
The first half or so of this novel by Charlie Jane Anders shows how these two misfits become friends, liking each other even when they didn’t understand each other. I love the idea of bringing science fiction and fantasy together in this way, and the near-future world Anders builds has lots of potential to develop in interesting ways.
The second half of the book turns to Patricia and Laurence as young adults. Having been apart for 10 years while pursuing an education in their areas of talent, the two come together again and discover that their different talents have put them in entirely different worlds. Both worlds are pursuing solutions to the earth’s problems, but they cannot connect—and may even destroy each other. Again, an interesting idea.
This book has lots of interesting ideas, too many in fact. As entertaining as the story is at time, the book as a whole feels largely underdeveloped. It might have been better as two separate books, where the two phases of the characters’ lives would have room to breathe. As it is, significant elements get brought up and then dropped with little explanation or serious follow-up. This happens with plot elements, such as the assassin who tries to guide Patricia and Laurence when they are kids. We learn his ultimate fate, but a lot of what happens in between gets completely left out. In the second half, we get a lot of details about robots developing sentience, but that doesn’t go anywhere in the end.
The problem is even worse when it comes to emotional elements. I was especially troubled by the treatment of Patricia’s relationship with her family. They are clearly abusive, locking her in her room for days and slipping food under the door. And her sister torments the cat. It is a shocking environment, and it’s understandable why Patricia would leave. But by the latter half of the book, everything is copacetic? I mean, sure, that happens, but we never see it happening. Similarly, when Patricia and Laurence’s relationship takes a major shift, we get most of it in flashback rather than going on the journey with them.
The plot is leisurely for much of the book. In fact, although I enjoyed the pace of the first half, by the second half, I was starting to feel that it was all set up. No singular conflict or problem had emerged, other than the secrets the main characters must keep and the fact that the world is falling apart. And then it becomes ALL CONFLICT (almost) ALL THE TIME as the story races through several major showdowns between science and magic to come to a screeching halt at the end.
And now is where I note that most of these complaints only emerged after I finished the book and thought about it for a bit. I was engaged in the story all the way through, and many of these complaints were mere niggles in the back of my mind as I read on, wondering where this would all go. But when I was done, I couldn’t help but wish for the book(s) this could have been. As pleased as I am to come across fantasy novels that aren’t part of a series, I’d rather a story with so much potential for awesomeness be given the space it needs.