I’ve been staring at my computer screen for about twenty minutes and I still don’t know how to start this review. I would like to say something as clever, interesting and thought-provocking as Too Like the Lightning and it’s not very successful so far!
Since, I can’t seem to find the perfect beginning, I am going to be lazy and start with a synopsis. 😉
Mycroft Canner is the biggest criminal of his time. He lives in 2454, in a utopian world and he is the narrator of the story. Because of his crimes he now works as a Servicer, which means that he’s not allowed to have personal properties and that he has too help others around him to earn his meals.
The story starts with the theft of a Seven-Ten list which basically a ranking of the most influencial persons in the world and of course, Mycroft end up in the middle of the problems and has to deal with a lot of political conflicts.
However, Mycroft has a secret and his name is Bridger, a thirteen year old boy who can bring life into inanimate objects. Because of his abilities, you could say that Bridger is a god, and, in a world where the law forbid people from following any form of cult, his existence might be problematic.
As I mentionned before, Too Like the Lightning is set in a utopian future . Because of the various scientifical progress, traveling from a point A to a point B on Earth is so easy and fast that the whole “let’s have a ton of borders” thing is pretty irrelevant to the world. So much so that countries don’t really exist anymore. They are instead replaced by Hives, country like administrations that manage billions of people. You aren’t born in a Hive, you choose it once you are old enough to make this decisions by yourself. You can choose what laws and ideas you want to follow no matter where you live. You can also be Hiveless and in that case, you just have to obey basic universal and local laws.
If in this world, the concept of national identity is shattered, it’s also the case of family Indeed, the concept of a nuclear family doesn’t exist anymore. It is now replaced by unions of related and unrelated human beings living and raising theirs kids together called “bash” which broadens the definition of the traditional family quite a bit.
I already mentionned national identity and family but this book brings a lot of interesting reflexions on a good number of subjects like gender, sexuality, progress, religion , politics and philosophy. It’s an ambitious book and in my opinion it was fairly successful in what it was trying to achieve even if it’s true that it was it was pretty dense. Some passages were written like an Eighteenth Century and in a chapter, alle the dialogues were in Latin.
I found the vision of genders incredibly interesting, in this world, it’s consider rude to talk about someone using a gender-specific pronouns and there aren’t “male or female” clothes anymore except on very specific events or locations. Of course, Mycroft doesn’t care about this rule and uses “she” and “he” all the time, however, he doesn’t always use the right gender-specific pronouns which can sometimes be a tad unsettling especially when you realize that the person you are picturing a man (since the narrator keeps using “he”s all the time) is actually a woman.
I also really enjoyed the different philosophical discussions which reminded me of my French and philosophy classes that I had during high school. I really enjoyed the fact that those reflexions didn’t feel forced at all. They are a lot of references to Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, the Marquis de Sade, Epicure, Socrate and Aristote but you don’t have to know a lot about them to enjoy the story because Palmer did a great job at explaining their different theses. I am not an expert at all in philosophy and I loved reading this book.
In Too Like The Lightning, Palmer introduced the notion of “set-set” which are humans grown linked to a computer and how some people despise them because they don’t think that they are humans anymore and that turning your children into a set-set is cruel since he lost the ability to have “a normal life”. It is an issue that was brought up several times in this book and I thought it was really interesting.
I could literally spend hours talking about this book since it’s so complex and I think that it’s a novel I am going to re-read in the future. Don’t be scared by its complexity, I was completely fascinated by the world and the story after the first chapter. Yes the pacing is slow but, slow doesn’t mean boring.
I would highly recommend Too Like The Lightning. For me, this book is a blend of Hyperion, The Traitor Baru Cormorant and Europe in Autumn which is saying something since those three books are three of my favorite books of all time!
I received an eARC of this thanks to Netgalley. All opinions are my own.