Kingdom Paperback – 10 May 2012
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About the Author
Anderson O'Donnell is obsessed with Dystopian/noir fiction, the Clash, and his two young sons.
Top customer reviews
It took me a surprising amount of time to read this, and I think I finally figured out why. The journey through a book is much like a physical journey - whether it be a brief stroll through something light and airy, or an arduous trek through a barren desert.
Kingdom is like a walk through a rainforest. The scenery is breathtaking (by which I mean the quality of the writing), but there's so much that it bogs you down and slows your journey.
O'Donnell is a fantastically talented writer, with some beautiful turns of phrase, great dialogue, and wonderfully evocative descriptions. He crafts his characters well, turning reprehensible ones into people who can be identifed and empathised with.
O'Donnell has his own voice, dark and angry, used to condemn a bitter and bleak future with aspects of our own which have attracted his wrath. However, he's also intelligent and creative, bringing in genetic manipulation, political wrangling, addiction, and studies of the soul, to create a fascinating piece. Remeniscent, at times, of Philip K Dick.
Interestingly, although I started off curiously detached from the lead characters, they do grow rapidly and subtly into investable people. Very well handled.
However, O'Donnell's biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. The writing is gorgeous, no doubt. However, there's just so damn much of it. In brutal honesty, the text could have done with a harsher edit, and losing 25-33%. I can understand why not, as what's written is so well delivered, but it does affect the pacing, and impact on what's being told at times. Tough choice to make.
The other problem is the old "information dump" issue. Whilst O'Donnell has crafted this wonderful world, has a real knack for dialogue and whatnot, on the occasions where information needs to be dumped it is literally dumped. In a huge chunk of text.
Honestly, I would love to see more from O'Donnell, but in a leaner, tigher-paced book, with less description. For what is, essentially, a slim novel there is too much descriptive padding. More story (and please note, I am in no way suggesting there isn't enough story here, because there is, and it's well written), and an expansion of his world would be great.
For a debut novel, this is outstanding, and I'm positive O'Donnell will be one to watch in the future. Recommended.
*I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
Elsewhere we have Campbell who was once involved with Morrison Biotech but has now found sanctuary with the Order of Neshamah, a religious group who have turned to science to gain a greater understanding of the human soul. Campbell's motives are not always clear and it is hard to gauge whether he is a good guy or a villain. Campbell has the problem of former colleague, Michael Morrison, from Morrison Biotech who is intent on recovering the geneticist and has a keen interest in the political landscape as well.
O'Donnell's Tiber City is the strongest character in my opinion. The descriptions in the book are heavily detailed and leave no stone unturned. This is a gritty and uncompromising world though, its descent down to the corruption of its people rather than through a costly war. I cannot fault O'Donnell's skill in conveying this dystopian world but I did feel that the description was often too heavy. It interrupted the flow of the story and as a result it is Tiber City that is the most memorable element of the story. I didn't really feel I got to the heart of Campbell but Dylan's efforts in solving the mystery behind his father's death were always interesting. The novel did seem to gather pace in its final quarter, but I just wish it had shown the same urgency throughout.
Kingdom is a very well-written novel, with Tiber City beautifully conveyed. However, the detailed description, though excellent, impacts negatively on other areas of the book. I did guess some elements of the story before the end but the storyline remained intriguing. I will certainly be interested to see what the next instalments have to offer.
At times the descriptions in this book were almost too intense, the scenes too graphic to bear. And yet this horror was never out of place with the world in which it was set, always there for a clear purpose. Its this imagery that really gives life to the book and propels the reader on in the hope that things might become better.
There was never a dull moment in this story. Events just kept coming, mirroring the fast-paced world in which the plot is set. At no point did I want to put the book down and pick it up another time. On the contrary, given the chance I was able to read half this book in one sitting.
Its not an easy read, but this is a book which I thoroughly recommend to fans of dystopian worlds. I comes with only one warning though- this is not one for the young or the feint of heart!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Combining hard-hitting noir, genomic science, theological musings and a city as gritty, rusted and blasted as Samuel R. Delany's Bellona in Dhalgren or Jack O'Connell's Quinsigamond in The Skin Palace, O'Donnell has come up with a bio-punk saga from hell. Indeed, it would seem that the gene for the human soul has been discovered and, as it transpires, that is not necessarily a good thing. The discovery is made during the process of creating human replicants via use of human genome mapping, but one gene seems to go missing, leading to both physical and psychological horrors that would make Cronenberg jealous.
The resulting saga reads like a futuristic Raymond Chandler novel colliding with Philip K. Dick-like philosophical musings and all delivered, as Jack O'Connell puts it, with a hearty dose of "Transylvanian meth." All the noir clichés are here but delivered with an electro-magnetic jolt. The book is set in a near-future metropolis - Tibor City - a city that is as ill as many of its characters. Like William Gibson in his Bridge series, O'Donnell is at pains to drag his readers kicking and screaming through its streets and into the cigarette-saturated environs of the nearest bar for innumerable glasses of Jamesons - neat, thank you. As a first novel, it's a rough-hewn book that takes time to build up steam and congeal its multifarious characters and twisting story-lines but once it does the adrenalin blast of events and ideas are breathtaking. Everything is up for grabs here - most especially your soul.
On the surface, KINGDOM is a dystopian tale that channels near-future Philip K. Dick grit while gracefully dipping its toes into the deep end of some far-out sci-fi ideas. It is a visual novel; it's - dare I say - cinematic. It's LOGAN'S RUN, but steeped in our world, depicting an expectant future that's right around the corner, and it is the novel's merger of high-concept sci-fi and prescient realism that makes this work smart and, quite frankly, relevant. O'Donnell expertly weaves his narrative between three main characters: Dylan Fitzgerald (the lost son of the late Senator Robert Fitzgerald and KINGDOM's ostensible hero), Jonathan Campbell (the venerable scientist and brain behind the genetic experimentation in Tiber City) and Michael Morrison (the hardnosed entrepreneur, unscrupulous scientist and central protagonist/villain, who usurps Campbell's work, and sets the narrative's plot precariously toward the point-of-no-return). While I'm sometimes skeptical of split narratives that will eventually tie themselves neatly together at the end - these narratives have been done to death, in both books and film - O'Donnell appropriately (and at times ingeniously) uses this storytelling device as a way to underscore his theme of disconnection. And it is through this theme of disconnection that O'Donnell illustrates the book's pursuit of finding the opposite - a connection - much in the way Dylan finally finds his connection, a connection his father was unable to find for himself.
O'Donnell's "connection" is manifested throughout the work by enigmatic - but by no means unfamiliar - phenomena like: love, hate, belief in a God, friendship, and the like. He employs a circular motif throughout the novel, which not only takes the form of the asterisk enclosed in a circle, but is also represented by the "Zero Movement" (a real time modern art movement, replete with requisite ones and zeroes) "coconut chairs," the "Omega Gene," and the physical eyes of characters, specifically the eyes a father passed down to hi son (and, unwittingly, passed down to the next crop of Tiber City's political leaders). It's all about connection. One end of the loop connecting to the other, forming a reciprocal bond, in a manner that's both surprising and inevitable. That is faith, or what is expected of faith. Faith in something higher, something that is beyond our human comprehension; and while that "something" may be out of our reach in our common existence, it is that belief in its existence that imbues our lives with meaning. O'Donnell treads carefully along this theme, however; his work is not a polemic on the virtues of religion - in fact, it's quite the contrary. I might argue that KINGDOM is a completely secular work, a work in which belief - specifically peoples' religious beliefs - is misdirected. I might argue that the novel implies that belief is often misdirected: that belief is better focused on the people around us. However, I do not presume to think it is O'Donnell's intention to marginalize religion. I think it is his intention to suggest its cultural marginalization, and marginalization of community as a whole, in a dystopian society that values egoism over the connection to something outside of ourselves, whether that something is another human being or a divine entity belonging to any one of a variety of religions. It is the idea of disconnection that thrives in much of modern dystopian fiction and sci-fi futurism, and O'Donnell takes the idea and runs with it, elevating it to a point where he seamlessly merges ethereal mysticism with the very tangible world of biotechnology. It is our connection with something outside of the self - be it other people or simply a belief in something bigger than us - that drives our lives, that makes us human, that connects one end of the circle to the other. In KINGDOM that adhesive glue that facilitates the connection we crave is called the soul.
KINGDOM is genre fiction of the highest order. It's a book about characters, but it's so much more than that. It's a page-turner. But it also makes you think, and in plainest terms, that's the mark of good literature. While the characters in KINGDOM struggle to search for their respective souls, Anderson O'Donnell has clearly found it himself; his writing is brimming with soul. If O'Donnell's book is the "circle" of the asterisk, his characters and readers are the lines within, connecting to each other at the center.
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