23 January 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner

The Promise of the Child (The Amaranthine Spectrum #1)The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Promise of the Child is a stunning feat of imagination set against an epic backdrop ranging from 14th-century Prague, to a lonely cove near the Mediterranean Sea, to the 147th-century Amaranthine Firmament. Toner has crafted an intelligent space opera filled with gripping action and an emotional scale that is wonderfully intimate, a smart and compelling debut that calls to mind the best of Kim Stanley Robinson or M. John Harrison.

Lycaste is a lovesick recluse living in a forgotten Mediterranean cove who is renowned throughout the distorted people of the Old World for his beauty. Sotiris Gianakos is a 12,000-year-old Cypriote grieving the loss of his sister, a principled man who will change Lycaste's life forever. Their stories, and others, become darkly entwined when Aaron the Longlife—the Usurper, a man who is not quite a man—makes a claim to the Amaranthine throne that threatens to throw the delicate political balance of the known galaxy into ruin.

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DISCLAIMER: I received my copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I was first shown this book, I was impressed with the level of interest and praise that it has received, and by some recognizable names in the industry too. This made me keen to delve into it myself. Even though it's classified as space opera, the synopsis sounded to me very much like what I call "science-fantasy", a universe where things appear more mystical and magical than technological and where hard sci-fi is quite scarce. The closest thing to this description that I've read would probably be Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, a universe that I enjoyed a lot.

Set thousands of years in the future, this story takes the idea that humanity has continued to evolve, and has also produced a number of sub-species. At the top of the heap are a section of humanity called the Amaranthine, a very long-lived group who have created a huge interstellar empire in which Earth (known as The Old World) is still central. The rest of the "human" species comes in the shape of the Prism, who have a number of forms, are more primitive than the Amaranthine.

I won't begin an analysis of the plot or the characters, partly because there are many other reviews that have done this, and also partly because it came as a bit of blur to me. I found myself skimming portions of the text for a considerable amount of the book. It's written with an elegant artistic style, and while I don't know much about the technicalities of the English language, I can recognize the skill of the author here. The only problem is that I'm not turned on by that sort of thing, I like it simpler, less "flowery" as it were. I'm technical-thinking and matter-of-fact which means that I found this book to be not all that entertaining. Intellectually stimulating for some I have no doubt, but I tired of the embellished prose.

However, what I do see, as many other readers also do, is a new author on the scene who will probably fit in nicely with the likes of Reynolds, Banks, Hamilton and others of the genre. I'm sure he'll be around for some time.

Overall, I'd call this book a technically skillful execution of a complex story, within a fantastic universe. It just lacks enough entertainment value for my tastes, which unfortunately meant that it didn't do it for me.

4/5 for concept
5/5 for delivery
2/5 for entertainment
= 3.7 out of 5

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