Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE WAKING ENGINE by David Edison

THE WAKING ENGINE

By David Edison

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3486-2
Publisher: Tor

Edison's debut is an extraordinary and bewildering fantasy.

In a multiverse consisting of unnumbered universes, nobody dies permanently; instead, they’re reincarnated in new bodies on different worlds with their memories of previous lives intact. Eventually, when the spirit finally tires of multiple lives, it’s drawn to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death is located. At the city’s heart is an enigmatic mechanism, the vivistor, whose function is to grant True Death. Unfortunately, that function is failing. To the city comes Cooper, a gay man from Manhattan, summoned by Alouette, a goddess in disguise; he’s greeted by puzzled beauty Sesstri and the mysterious gray-skinned Asher, who fear the approach of the svarning (possibly an Icelandic word meaning conspiracy), a contagious collective insanity that threatens to destroy everything. Neither Sesstri nor Asher can find a use for Cooper, so they turn him loose. He finds himself in a vast, labyrinthine, overcrowded, rotting metropolis inhabited by murderous aristocrats like Purity Kloo; an insane faerie princess known as the Cicatrix; a captive angel or aesr; gangs of feral Death Boys such as the racist Nixon; psychic vampires or “liches”; the sadistic Lallowë Thyu; and reincarnated historical figures like Thea Philosopater, who was once Cleopatra—all of whom pursue their own unfathomable agendas while few seem inclined to seek True Death. (Then how did they get there? Did they all just get stuck in the gears?) Even a New Yorker like Cooper finds this bizarre; worse, he doesn’t remember dying or any previous lives, and he seems to be the only one in the city with a navel. Edison puts an impressive imagination to work and writes with clarity and precision. But with almost uniformly secretive main characters, the narrative lacks cohesion and drive, and the result, while often dazzling, offers little by way of involvement.

A magic carpet ride—but the carpet just hovers.