A melodic, immersive dystopian tale set in a London where writing is lost and song has replaced story.
It's some time after the cataclysmic Allbreaking, and the powerful Order has set all to rights. Every evening now, their bells peal out a soothing chorus of harmony that overwhelms body and mind. Living in an eternal present, residents of Britain rely on the rituals of "bodymemory" and their private hoards of "objectmemories"—a muddy raincoat, a shard of plate—in order to cling to the slippery knowledge of who they are. In inventive language that perfectly captures the disrupted nature of this world, debut novelist Smaill introduces us to Simon, through whom we experience this richly realized future. Simon runs with a "pact" of fellow teens in the "under"—the dark tunnels and tracks leftover from when Britain had electricity. Guided by the pact leader, Lucien, whose musical gifts more than make up for his blindness, they scavenge in "thamesmuck" for nuggets of precious pale "mettle" to sell on the black market. Simon has settled into this life despite the unusual clarity with which he can visualize his past, which once included a family. But to Simon’s great disturbance, Lucien starts asking him to share these stories of his past, in violation of all social codes. When Simon does begin to piece his memories together with Lucien’s, they discover the horror of how this world of seeming harmony came to be. After the deft and engaging worldbuilding of the first half, the second half of the novel slips into a swift and simple quest narrative, but it’s one plaited with an unexpected story of first love. As the novel reaches its crescendo, the poignancy of memory, with all its attendant pain and loss, faces down the dangers of a perfection built on ignorant bliss.
Entrancingly poetic and engagingly plotted, this is a story that brims with heart and soul.