Hello, all! I have been begging my husband to write a review for me to post, as he is a fantastic writer and editor – half the things that I write are only readable because of him! He recently read Too Like the Lightening by Ada Palmer, and we thought this would be a great chance to have him put up a review. Please show him some love!
Hey there, Perspicacious Bookworm asked me to do a guest review for her blog; I am her husband, Mister Bookworm. I tend to read longer books and books with science fiction themes. Some of my favorite books are: Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card); Sewer, Gas & Electric (Matt Ruff); and Shogun (James Clavell). I received Too Like the Lightning as a gift from Perspicacious Bookworm some months ago and thought it would be a good choice for my guest review.
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
Too Like the Lightning is a science fiction novel set in the near future, written as if by a contemporary of this future time, as a detailed account of historically-significant events in which the narrator was directly involved. The narrator frequently addresses the reader, as if the reader is in the further future, to reveal details about the narrator’s time. The style of writing was effective in drawing me into the world that Palmer envisions.
The plot is primarily a mystery. The mystery spans the world and involves both global politics and global personalities. There are frequent surprises and reveals, most of which lead to more questions than they answer. Even some aspects of the setting itself are a mystery to the reader initially. In order to describe the plot, this reviewer will need to reveal some surprises, but will stick to reveals from the first quarter of the book and leave most of TLtL’s secrets hidden; if you wish to avoid even those minor spoilers, skip the next two paragraphs.
The narrator, Mycroft, is trying to keep a child, Bridger, secret from the world because Mycroft believes that Bridger would be used as a powerful pawn by the leaders of the world. Mycroft is probably right; Bridger has the unique ability to bring toys to life. There is no scientific explanation given and no other magical powers so this ability boldly stands out in an otherwise realistic world. The interactions among Bridger and Mycroft and the few others that know of the child’s ability could be a novel unto themselves, but for Too Like the Lightning, these relationships are just one thread of the vast plot.
Because of Mycroft’s intelligence and skills with statistical analysis, Mycroft is called on by several of the world’s leaders to investigate the possibly-global consequences of an apparent suicide. But each of these leaders is contacting Mycroft separately, initially without the knowledge of the others. Mycroft is a part of a complex web of trust and secrets with these great leaders. The leaders take for granted that someone is behind the death, but they are uncertain what the motive might be.
The setting Palmer created has flying cars and a peaceful global society. Individuals freely choose what part of the world they wish to live in and, thanks to the high-speed flying cars, are free to work in another part of the world. This is contrasted with some dystopian elements including: a ban on organized religion, trackers that are worn at all times, and a form of slavery which is used as punishment for some crimes. Neither dystopian nor utopian, the setting has a cultural taboo against referring to a person’s gender and some individuals have been trained using extreme methods to interface more directly with computers. The setting seamlessly blends these welcome and unwelcome changes in a way that makes it difficult to decide which are which. Palmer manages to show the reader details about the setting without ever breaking character.
While never graphic and never crossing the line into erotica, some parts of TLtL are more salacious than I want in a novel. The level of sexuality was a bit off-putting at times, but the majority of the book was appropriate for coffee-shop reading. The naughty sections are woven well into the plot, so they never seem completely gratuitous, but I think those themes could have been avoided without losing more than shock effect. I will admit I am a bit old fashioned in these matters, but readers with similar sensibilities should be warned.
My favorite thing about TLtL was the steady reveal of clues about the various plots. There were times when I had hunches about what was to come, but nothing was ever completely obvious until Palmer wanted it to be. There were no ‘dry’ chapters with nothing added and no single chapter that suddenly solved all of the mysteries. I can think of few mysteries that succeeded so well at that balance.
Overall, I relished Too Like the Lightning and I would rate it with an 8 out of 10. The characters, particularly the narrator, have a lot of depth. The setting is detailed in those subtle ways that make it seem like a plausible future. Any one of the plots could have been enjoyable alone, but together they build a story that is more than its parts. Palmer has a winner with this novel and I look forward to having a chance to read the sequel.
I recommend this book if you enjoy societal science fiction, political intrigue, and a degree of mystery. If you are a bit of literary prude, you might feel uncomfortable with the frankness with which some sexual topics are included. As someone that often reads snippets between tasks at work, I found that this book required too much concentration for that sort of reading and preferred to read it in the evenings when I could give it my full attention.