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The Modern World (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
The Modern World (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Steph Swainston
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Themes and characters - the Castle sequence continues, 19 Aug. 2007
'The Modern World' shares the same distinctive, sometimes baroque, always nuanced, style of Steph Swainston's two previous novels, placing it firmly in the Castle sequence. As the third book in a fantasy sequence, the reader might approach it with an expectation of conclusion, expecting the pat finishing touches of a conventional trilogy. Instead, Swainston reminds the reader firmly that whatever it might be, this is not a conventional trilogy. She deftly combines a satisfying sense of closure to some plot strands, whilst deliberately declining other opportunities to 'conventionalise' the narrative into a finale. 'The Modern World' shows an ever maturing sense of balance between purity of authorial intent and accessibility that certainly worked well for this reader.

All three of Steph's books so far have woven a complex narrative dialogue between the first person narration of Jant, characterised by his immediate engagement with the worldly events of the Fourlands, and the deeper, and more fundamental story of Lightning, played out in the context of those events. At once the oldest and perhaps powerful of the immortal Circle, but at the same time the most emotionally circumscribed, the deep passions that lie within Lightning's persona have steadily emerged through the stories as much through what Lightning doesn't do or say, the options to engage with the world he declines and postpones, as much as what he actually does truly participate in and do.

The three books are very much about the progress of Lightning back to humanity, but Jant - the all-seeing messenger - does not retell the story around that theme. Typically, Jant tells an utterly self-centred version of events. The tension between these two threads - the central story of Lightning, and Jant's personal passage - gives the three books part of their particular style and taste. The third perhaps leans more deliberately towards the story of Lightning, despite Jant, and I felt it almost the more comfortable and certainly confident for that.

As in her previous novels, at its best Swainston's writing has a beautiful sense of timing and rythmn. It would be easy to focus on the staccatic battle sequence of the opening chapter, but pause on the chaotic timelessness in the Shift sequence, or the sensually languid final chapters, and consider the language, tempo and style - Steph's always fine writing is elevated to excellence.

I look forward to seeing where Steph takes both her world and writing next.


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