War and chaos loom in this conclusion to the story begun in Too Like the Lightning (2016), in which a child with godlike powers disrupts a supposedly serene future society built on Enlightenment principles.
In 2454, nations, called Hives, are no longer based upon geographical location but upon intellectual and philosophical alignment. This arrangement has worked so well that peace has reigned for 300 years, so long that no one would even know how to conduct a war if one were to break out. But a few decades ago, the Mardi family determined that war was inevitable, and that the later it came, the more devastating it would be, and so decided to incite the war themselves to minimize the damage. They were forestalled by our narrator, Mycroft Canner, who brutally murdered them to prevent that war from ever coming about. Unfortunately, his efforts seem to have been in vain; the last surviving Mardi has returned to Earth to continue his family’s work. Public unrest rises at the revelation of some very unpleasant Hive government secrets (some of which were similarly intended to keep the peace at any price) and the machinations of Madame D’Arouet, a brilliant and politically connected brothel-keeper who uses sex and gender as weapons against a proudly gender-free society that is therefore defenseless against such ploys. And then there is Bridger, a child who can bring toys to life, who could save the world…or doom it. Sometimes the answers in a story are less satisfying than the intriguing questions posed by a preceding volume; readers' appreciation of the resolution here depends on whether they accept the author’s argument that humanity will always tend toward war. Palmer also hedges her bets by not tying up all the loose ends; she never explains the more supernatural elements of the plot and leaves the future of her world uncertain.
Rich food for thought; perhaps not entirely digestible.