Top critical review
Disappointing, too long, too small in scale
on 1 March 2017
I'm trying not to judge this by reference to the Polity stuff, since it deserves a review on its own merits. But that's tricky. Expectations have been high, and books 1 and 2 in the Owner trilogy weren't really thrilling me. Hard to fault someone who looks at the author's other works and hopes for more. I don't apologise for holding Asher to a high standard; he's the new Banks, for me - not as good a writer, but a wonderful imagination and a great scope make up for a few stumbles in the prose.
In short: it's a 750 page book told in 1500 pages. Spoilers ahead.
The scope is never broad enough. You can boil the story down to a handful of plot points. The main character was missing for half of book 2. Var did almost nothing in the first 2 books. It isn't space opera; it's more like space soap-opera. There isn't enough there to engross the reader. This is a Lord of the Rings length saga, with all the epic span of a single Dr Who episode. Shit just does not happen.
We don't see enough of our protagonist; and what we do see makes us as cross as it makes us happy. I get it, that we might need to have a hero with foibles; it's harder to get on with one who's a plonker. And we have almost no other likeable characters. Which means that the villain has to be elevated to such a fever-pitch of unpleasantness that we just need to add a "Cruella De---" as a prefix to her name. She's paper thin. And really, how many sadistic killings do we need, to persuade us we don't like her? Padding is the name of the game, it seems. And not for the lack of opportunity - there are some wonderful characters who are woefully underdeveloped (the twins, for example) - and one (Alex) who, interestingly, ends up with a better arc as a semi-robot, than the characters who are real.
And there's no real theme here. Much ranting about how socialism and facism are all bad. Some thoughts about communism and leadership and climate/population control. But by the end a general nihilism takes over and we are just expected to hate the lot. I don't detect anything clever here - though the clone/Alex/freewill storylines might have been developed in an interesting way, had the author bothered.
Cut out the construction-fixation (jeez - I never need to hear again about how one bolt fits into another, how one passageway connects to another) and the boring sadism and the repetitive anti-politics stuff - and you'd have something really worthwhile, I think - at about half the length; maybe shorter.
It's too long, too boring, too small, too self-absorbed, too repetitive. In short: nothing like as good as the other Asher work. To the point that I wonder, in fact, if it isn't something he wrote years ago, before he became a sellable asset, and that's now being produced for us all on the back of that marvellous Polity work.
Still: I don't hate it. So I'm giving it 3 stars. But disappointing, in the end.