I originally received this to review, but have actually bought a copy in the meantime because I took too long about getting to it — and some of my friends were very enthusiastic about it.
I’m actually finding this one a difficult one to review, anyway. The prose is great, and the interweaving of the plots, the character arcs, and the way the different time periods are handled… all of that worked very well for me. The set-up of the world, too: the plague, the way people survive, the existence of something like the Travelling Symphony (though it did remind me of Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique). It just… doesn’t seem to be sticking with me. I finished it last night and I’m already forgetting details and connections.
Maybe part of it is that I didn’t really form an emotional connection to anyone. The way it shifts between central characters caused that, somewhat: I was never sure who was coming back, who was incidental. And sometimes the characters were just… drifting through their lives without purpose. The actor, for example, his hopping between wives and his callousness to his friends; he’s a well-written character, and yet not one I can be passionate about.
I think maybe what it really lacked for me was a sense of destination. “Survival” is all the characters aim for, and there’s no one unifying thing that they’re all drawn toward, so that their coming together feels unimportant. I don’t usually need some big epic event as a book’s climax, but it didn’t seem like this had a climax — it was more a character study, a world study, which normally I would enjoy, but because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, it didn’t elevate the novel beyond “well, objectively I can see it’s well-written”.
I hesitate over giving it a rating, because I normally rate by enjoyment, but also by a sense of ‘okay, I’ll take a star off for x and y’. I don’t want to dock it stars, though, and yet it doesn’t merit the highest accolades I’ve given to books like The Goblin Emperor. I’m going to have to go with three stars (‘liked it’) — which is not to say it’s not a good book, maybe even a five star book in some ways, but it just can’t touch the involvement I’ve had with books I’ve given five stars.