Qaanaaq is a floating city, based in the Arctic, a complex highly-engineered environment that somehow survives in this dystopian world. It is built along Arms, and social castes gravitate towards their own. The city has its social problems, and is riven by class, power and wealth. The city is run by mysterious shareholders (they and their progeny have the wealth, etc.), organised crime is rampant, and everyone else survives. Qaanaaq has limited space, making the shareholders (who own all the property) immensely wealthy and powerful, though no-one knows who they actually are. Law is enforced by Artificial Intelligence, and rigidly adhered to.
In this complicated yet mostly lawful society, we encounter four main characters, and follow how their lives intersect. They have varying histories and heritage, which they must face. They come from across the societal strata, and are subject to corruption, bureaucracy and crime.
- Soq: Gender-neutral, promiscuous, a speed-slider messenger, Soq has all the energy of youth and its indiscretions, and wants to be at the heart of the crime underworld.
- Kaev: A beam-fighter, he throws fights to get bigger payoffs, in spite of being a superb fighter. He needs to fight to quell his neurological stresses.
- Fill: Rich (one of the shareholder offspring), gay, bored. He seeks thrills, but is suffering from the Breaks, disease that is riddling the city.
- Ankit: Part of the city’s bureaucratic machinery, she does try to bend the rules to help citizens and immigrants, which causes her professional trouble.
- Masaaraq: mysterious arrival from outside the city, she is nano-bonded (telepathically bonded) with a killer orca. She also arrives with a full-grown polar bear.
- Go: Female crime boss, ruthless, and the boss of Kaev and Soq.
The book is seen from these four main viewpoints. The city is being swept by the Breaks, a sexually-transmitted disease that gives the infected person the memories of everyone that has been in the chain of encounters up to when they contracted the disease. It is ultimately fatal.
There is an underground anonymous communication stream, called City Without A Map, sort-of anarchic, and which provides context and comfort to the characters.
The other early development is the arrival out of the sea of the mysterious Masaaraq, a member of a lost/dying race from the “wastes” beyond Qaanaaq. No-one knows why she has arrived, but her legend grows strong, and threatens to upset power bases.
Our four protagonists are eventually pulled into Masaaraq’s orbit, some unwillingly, and slowly she reveals to them her purpose.
The pace of the book lifts as it nears the end, but the end is not as clear-cut as you would expect.
What I Liked:
- The world-building was very well done, well realised and believable.
- The main characters were authentic, having flaws as well as greatness, and created a very dynamic feel.
- The author worked the four-person POV narrative well.
- The hero/heroine doesn’t have all the solutions.
What I Didn’t Like:
- It was initially hard to get into the rhythm of the book, given the extensive world-building the author was doing, along with the multiple viewpoints, and this can be off-putting. This lasts for about the first third.
This is a super dystopian novel, but you must have the patience to get through the first third or so of the book. The character- and world-building effort pays off. There is a good v evil narrative, but everyone has a toe in each of those camps so the divide isn’t clear-cut.
I found the author’s message to be the more the world fragments, the more important become the bonds that hold you to others – family, true friends, promises made and kept. Collectively, people wield more power than they may believe, but with that comes great responsibility. There may be nothing to replace what you’ve torn down.
I really enjoyed this book once it got going, and definitely recommend.