Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy with Steampunk & Western elements
Pages: 480
Date Published: October 2010
Publisher: TOR Books
Source: I received a review copy from Tolly at PR by the Book. Thank you Tolly!
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book description (from the publisher):
The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.
To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People, who live at one with the earth and its elements. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.
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I'm not entirely sure how to describe this book because it is unlike anything else I've read this year. The half-made world that Gilman has created in The Half-Made World is imaginative and unique, with fantastical elements that feel familiar yet are fabulously inventive. The West lies on the edge of the made world and two factions battle each other for power there. The Line's demonic engines transform everything in their path into industrialized and mechanized cogs in their empire, intimidating people to become parts in their grand machine or destroying them if they resist. The Gun's master spirits reside in the firearms of their Agents, fighting for their own empire using fear and violence for their own selfish goals. To venture west, past the edge of the politically unstable made world, is to encounter a materially unstable land with plants, animals, and beings that are beyond imagination. This is the setting, and at times it left me breathless with wonder and a little disoriented because it is so imaginative.

The story follows Liv Alverhyusen, a psychologist from the East on her way to work at a frontier hospital with victims of the war who have suffered mental injury. At the same time, a reluctant Agent of the Gun and a detachment of soldiers from the Line are on their way to the same frontier hospital, looking for a General of the long-defeated Red Republic. He had been assumed dead, but new intelligence suggests that he may be alive (but with mental injury) and have knowledge locked inside his head of a weapon that could take out the Line and the Gun and end the war.

The characters are wonderfully realistic. Liv seeks to help people with psychological problems, but is deeply troubled by psychological problems of her own. Creedmoor, the Agent of the Gun, is likable and unlikable at the same time--he has the potential to be a hero, but he is also the enemy. He has clearly grown weary of answering to his Gun's demon, but he fears what his life will be like without it. The soldiers of the Line are less complicated because of their devotion to the Line (which seems really unpleasant), but it is interesting to watch their morale and courage waver as they encounter the odd and volatile western frontier.

I never knew where the story was taking me. It was utterly fascinating (and really, really cool) to follow their trek into the unknown--unknown both to the characters and to the reader as well. I turned the last page and wished there was more. The story ends with the characters facing another odyssey--it will keep me on pins and needles until the next book comes out. Thank goodness there is a second book in the works. This book was astonishingly good and I highly recommend it.

As an aside, I really liked this book once I got past the prologue. The prologue was the only part of the book that I struggled through. If you end up struggling with it too, just keep going because the rest of the book is totally worth it.

(Reader's Advisory: If you're averse to books with swearing in them, be aware that it happens in this book.)

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