Thursday, January 2, 2014

Not My Cup of Joe

Something More Than Night
by Ian Tregillis
Published by Tor

2 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda 

**I received a free copy of Something More Than Night from Tor in exchange for an honest review.**

A swell angel, Gabriel, takes a powder by way of the big sleep. But what kind of button man has the juice to take down a big player like an archangel? It's not long before heavenly forces put the screws to Bayliss, a two bit angel confined to the dive known as Earth, where he's spent centuries tipping a little rye, smoking pills, and eyeing dishy kittens who know how to fill out a skirt. Heaven wants Bayliss to case the joint and find a mortal palooka he can knock off to fill Gabriel's slot in the universe. Hoping for a mark who won't ing-bing, Bayliss instead ends up with a flametop twist who stirs up all kinds of heavenly trouble. Now Bayliss is behind the eight ball, the immortal bulls want answers, and Bayliss suspects he and this new dame may be the patsys in a universal game of whodunit. Savvy?

Of all the bookshelves, in all the towns, in all the world, this book makes it onto mine.

Something More Than Night is going to appeal to a niche group of readers: hardcore noir aficionados, of whom I am not one. I like my noir like I like my coffee--black. But with sugar and cream and flavoring so it barely resembles coffee anymore. In other words, I like my noir to be not-so-noirish.

Ian Tregillis presents a concept that sounds entertaining, but quickly becomes tedious. Beginning with the death of Gabriel as he flames across the night sky, questions are quickly asked by Bayliss, the only heavenly being who seems interested in getting to the bottom of the angel's murder. Through his investigation and the inclusion of Molly, the mortal Bayliss has bumped off to plug the hole in the universe left by Gabriel's untimely demise, we learn that, in the beginning, there was not light, but angels. Angels free to do and imagine the universe as they pleased until METATRON, the voice of a higher power, clipped the angels' wings by chaining them to the mortal realm. Denied the right to roam the universe as they once did, the angels chafed against their chains but their proximity to one another created the MOC (Mantle of Ontological Consistency) that ensured existence for mortals would continue through the angelic consensus of what reality is.

As Molly comes to terms with her divinity and Bayliss seeks the truth behind Gabriel's murder, Tregillis builds a heaven of quantum physics only tinged by religious philosophy. While I enjoyed his vivid descriptions of the angelic hierarchy and the individual Magisteriums each angel builds as a personal hideaway, his descriptions of the universe veer into physics-based purple prose. Initially, I found this inventive and enjoyed passages such as:

He'd been collecting little odds and ends since at least the double-digit redshifts. The interior reality of Gabriel's Magisterium burbled and shifted like convection currents in a star on the zaftig end of the main sequence. Because, I realized, that's what they were. Dull dim light, from IR to X-ray, oozed past me like the wax in a million-mile lava lamp while carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen nuclei did little do-si-dos about my toes. Every bubble, every sizzle, every new nucleus, every photodissociation tagged something of interest to Gabriel . . . Nuclear reactions unfolded with the calm susurration of solar wind upon Earth's atmosphere, seeding cloud formation and rain. Convective cells furled about me with the low, slow, sonorous peal of cathedral bells mourning a monarch's death. X-rays fizzed on my tongue . . . " (64).

Got physics? Because you'll need it to slog your way through endless passages like this, which, while serving to capture the complexity and immensity of creation, do nothing but slow down the narrative. The combination of unceasing physics jargon with the unending noir slang became too much for me. Add to that the fact that Tregillis's world-building on the Earthly plane is sketchy at best (we get the sense that it is set in a dystopian future, but the futuristic elements seem wedged in and serve no defined purpose) and the novel begins to buckle under too many clever ideas.

The ultimate twist is a letdown as it seems contrived to get the plot out of the corner it had painted itself into. As the reason for the narrative's reliance on the noir genre becomes obvious to the characters, one muses, "But why go to all this trouble? What did it achieve, turning himself into a hard-boiled detective pastiche in an archetypal story" (250).

Why, indeed.

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