Reasons for reading: I enjoyed The Thunderer and was thrilled when I got a review copy of The Half-Made World from Tor.
I actually like it when I forget what exactly the book I pick up as my next read is supposed to be about. It seems to me that this way, a book stands a better chance to be a pleasant surprise – and I, like most everyone else, love pleasant surprises. The Half-Made World was a surprise in most every ways, but one aspect of it especially stood out: the amazing steampunk-ish world featured in the novel and the way this world was described and handled throughout the book.
Aside from being only half-made, the world Gilman builds in this novel is above all intriguing and depicted in surprising detail. There is the mysterious territory where the world is not yet made; there are lands belonging to Line, a dangerous faction that is all about discipline and hivemind attitude, and neutral countries in the East which care more about science than about world politics. There is also a faction called The Gun, whose agents are spread all over the world; it is led by demons who possess the weapons of their minions, and there is an ancient, immortal race of the (First) Folk, enslaved by the current residents of the West, and this could sound like a right cliché if the Folk were even remotely similar to elves, which they're not – they have spiderlike legs, deep red eyes and manes, and when I say 'immortal', I not only mean that they don't die unless killed, but that they don't die, ever. There are also the Smilers, the remains of the Red Valley Republic, which was defeated by the Line 20 years before the events in The Half-Made World; sadly, despite the Republic's noble cause – an effort to stand against the Gun and the Line – the Smilers come across as a bunch of brainwashed fanatics hiding deep in the unknown territory. Gilman paints us a world so vast that it could easily fuel a whole series of books and/or inspire dozens of other stories set in the same universe – a world which would be wasted if it were only used in a single novel.
We follow the story through the eyes of three protagonists: Sub-Invigilator Lowry, agent of the Line who, despite Line's best efforts, harbours possibly rebellious thoughts of fame and success; Creedmoor, agent of the Gun who, despite Gun's best efforts, harbours definitely rebellious thoughts of doubting his master's competence and planning to escape their grasp, and Dr. Lysvet 'Liv' Alverhuysen, a rather naïve psychologist who travels west with one of her patients, Maggfrid, and also happens to be addicted to her 'nerve tonic'. The three characters all have their own quests, but their paths all intersect and by a series of coincidences, they all end up in the same place on the very border of the made world.
The Half-Made World is not all innovative world-building, interesting characters and gripping plot, though. For instance, Liv is the only character that develops considerably in any way. Creedmoor and Lowry are both archetypes – the incredibly loyal servant who worships his masters but at the same time wishes his loyalty were recognised and repaid, and a dashing adventurer who enjoys the company of pretty women and is tired of his eternal servitude. If Creedmor changes at least somewhat throughout the novel, Lowry remains the same despite opportunities to break free of his role, and even though that's perfectly plausible (because Lowry is too scared to change in any way), I must admit I was a bit disappointed. Agatha seems to learn the most from the situations she finds herself in, but even her behaviour is rather predictable – she becomes sympathetic to her captor and shakes off her nerve tonic addiction.
Despite the small flaws, The Half-Made World is a very good read. The plot flows effortlesly over the pages and descriptions of the setting are not tedious, as it so often happens, but immensely enjoyable. Many of the reader's questions remain unanswered, though; I hope that the sequel, will take care of that. Either way, I'd recommend The Half-Made World both to everyone who loves good world-building and to people who usually skim over the descriptive paragraphs, because if there's one book that will make you want not only to read such paragraphs carefully but also over and over again, this is probably it. A pleasant surprise all around; I eagerly await the sequel.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011