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Compelling, but bloated, epic
on 22 August 2003
If you've made it this far, you know what's going on (and if you don't, there are pages and pages of story-so-far synopsis to fill you in). The real question is, does it work? More to the point, does it truly require over 1200 pages to wrap up a tale that's already three volumes old?
The answers are interlinked: it works, mostly, but it wavers severely, and mainly because of that overlong running time.
Things are spiralling out of control, both in the network and in the real world, and our various heroes and villains are fighting a losing battle against time, desperately trying to complete their tasks before everything ends...
...Or so we're told, repeatedly; but there's little sense of urgency communicated to the reader by chapter after chapter of characters slogging their way through a fading landscape. Much of this is little different from the episodic adventure/trudge of the previous two books. Sadly, the wonder evoked palls with each new virtual world (yes, yet more!), and you can't help but wonder why someone at the editing stage didn't whisper in Williams' ear about the law of diminishing returns. The prose is fluid and enjoyable enough - there's just far too much of it. Similar may be said of the characters; a third of them could be ditched without either the story or its themes suffering unduly. The exploration of the true nature of the Other is fascinating, but again, the same meditations could have been condensed without losing anything of value.
There is a huge and wonderful imagination at work here, and the near-future world Williams has created retains the power to enthral and amuse (the 'Netfeed' snippets at the top of each chapter remain one of the best bits of the book, especially the one for the final chapter).
But compelling as it is, I can't help but feel that the promise of the astonishing first book, _City of Golden Shadow_ has been squandered somewhere along the line, as Williams got caught up in his own inventiveness. The first volume contained real tension, mystery and wonder; here, though, the denouement is unforgivably talky and longwinded, and even introduces certain new and wholly unnecessary elements.
An uneven conclusion to what should have been a great fantasy achievement.