As an incredible realm sinks deeper and deeper into anarchy and warfare, a strange group of pilgrims embarks on an enigmatic mission.
Bennudriti, a professed admirer of cult fantasy writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake, makes his debut with this ambitious, fabulist sci-fi tale, the first in a series. He introduces the world of Naraia, a mix of distant past and remote future. While dirigibles and flying-fortress airships ply the skies and computer technology comes in liquid (and injectable) form, the streets and cities often devolve into wretched hives of scum and villainy. After the ruinous War of the Rupture, a corrupt society subsists under the unsteady regime of the Talgo warlord dynasty, having lost most ethical precepts of a messiah/prophet named “Salt Mystic” from 2,000 years ago (this Christ equivalent is one of the more accessible notions). Suddenly there appears a cocky troublemaker named Ring, on an esoteric quest to five unspoken destinations while warning his fellow travelers that it’s going to get “messy.” Ring recruits Misling, a young “Recorder,” whose sect follows and memorizes the deeds of the great and noteworthy to provide a full, immutable history. Misling violates the Recorder neutrality creed badly, as all-devouring nanoparticle bombs suddenly attack cities, terrifying synthetic plagues make ordinary folks homicidal lunatics, and invading hordes of a sadistic warrior nation called Red Witch suddenly appear. But the Red Witch combatants are hired mercenaries—so who is the prime evildoer at work? As events careen toward civil war, there may not even be a mastermind, just societal collapse, purges, and the culmination of age-old prophecies. Readers who want their plotlines proceeding from A to B will likely be lost in a snarl of undefined terminology and Bennudritian argot (“Although all flatrunner sailors were considered a bit mad in those days, feverishly electrostatic charges ripped from the very salt of the cotton-white flats, scouts like Munchy would be the first to tell of furious smoking skirmishes in the shimmering borderlands of his patrol”). It’s still a grand moment when digitally programmed tornadoes are unleashed as weapons of mass destruction. Good luck, however, figuring out (in this go-around, anyhow) what all the fighting and scheming is about. The title of a documentary about William Gibson comes to mind: No Maps for These Territories.
Rococo worldbuilding and sci-fi fantasy for the adventurous reader, relayed in language and description bordering on the experimental.