Aww man. Can you love a fictional bureaucracy, because I sure do.
The worst part of reviewing books is trying not to spoil the ever-loving crap out of the plot. Seriously, I was only 100 pages from the end of State Tectonics (the third in the Centenal Cycle by Malka Older) and had no idea what would happen. And I can’t really tell you, because you should totally read this series and I don’t want to ruin it for you. IT WOULD BE A BIG RUIN, Y’ALL.
But that last quarter is a big WHOOSH to the end with lots of stuff kicking off and all the bits of plot that have been whirling around in the air just drop. It’s a breathless ride to the finish and I devoured it as fast as I could, despite my blood pressure surely increasing.
The main plot of this book is about Information itself, the massive bureaucracy/fact-checker of the micro-democracy world. We know something is up, some dark forces arrayed against the intrepid organisation, but are unsure of some of the actors or their intentions. It gets quite stressful in bits as familiar faces get sent places and we don’t know what’s awaiting them.
I’m going to get my minor critique over with and then get onto the uncritical gushing for this book. The minor thing is that it felt too convenient to have another attack on Information, but that’s basically what makes it all interesting. We get five year gaps and we know people are upset with Information’s level of power, so it would also be silly to assume that in this system the bad actors would just disappear when foiled. The conceit is that it happens so quickly, which is forgivable because it’s still very fun.
So, the good bits. My god, but this book is so friggin’ readable. I read a stupid amount of books, some really well written, but this was just effortless. It felt like it was beamed directly into my brain, with no need for my eyeballs to process the words. Maybe it’s because of the familiarity with the world at this point, and the likability of so many of the characters (like omfg, how can I love Mishima any more, but I fucking do). But it’s so wonderfully written, with artful world building mixed in with the simple tasks while characters have conversations. I love how worldly it feels, with so many cultural references about food, drinks, places and everything in between, just dashed in along with plot.
Like Infomocracy and Null States, the crafting of the plot was wonderful. Teasing away at the edges as our cast of characters (Mishima, Maryam, Amran and Roz mainly) unpick bits of mystery surrounding the attacks on Information and other clandestine goings-on. Throw in a bit of misdirection and its a great, if nerve-wracking, experience as the mystery unfolds.
I want to do a commentary on the end because oh my god but its hard without ruining it. I’m think I side more with Nejime, almost as a reaction against all the current news and misinformation. That will make sense when you read it. But it’s interesting and thought-provoking without being a total cliff-hanger (or non-ending, I hate non-endings).
It was so lovely to return and visit the micro-democractic world and my favourite fictional bureaucracy. It such a familiar and engrossing world, built up over the last three novels, but the plot still offers something new and keeps you guessing about what might happen. Also, like omg, all the characters. So many women! All so friggin’ bad-ass in their own ways! Vulnerable and competent, making mistakes and fixing them, just wonderful. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful it is to see such a diverse group of characters, and even though there is quite the ensemble, they are are all distinct individuals.
I love this series.