Gilman debuts with a sprawling Victorian-style fantasy.
Young Arjun, talented musician and linguist, grows up in a society that worships a music-god known as the Voice. But when the Voice unaccountably withdraws, Arjun decides to go in search of it. He travels to the vast city Ararat, home to uncountable gods. Just as he arrives, the Bird-God soars above the city, granting Jack Sheppard, a slave in a silk mill, the power of flight. Jack escapes, and uses his newfound abilities to free other slaves and empty the city’s prisons. Meanwhile, Professor Holbach traps some Bird-God power inside a vast warship, Thunderer. Countess Ilona immediately orders the flying ship to attack and subdue the city’s other gangster-oligarch rulers. After rejecting an approach by the Spider, a disinterested entity that runs a sort of human lottery, Arjun meets Olympia, Holbach’s lawyer, and starts work translating rare ancient books to garner information for Holbach’s mysterious Atlas. Jack’s freed slaves fight with the white robes, child-warriors devoted to a fire-god who are being manipulated by other oligarchs to revolt against Ilona in ways beyond the reach of Thunderer. As Ilona’s power crumbles, Holbach sends Arjun to confront Shay, a mysterious, possibly immortal entity who captures and confines scraps of gods. Shay so damages one of them, a water-monster called Typhon, that it hunts Arjun while spreading disease and death through the slums. As the city spirals into civil war and worse, can anyone find a way to defeat Typhon and stop the slaughter?
Slow to start, and increasingly amorphous toward the end, but memorably imaginative, with intriguing characters and flashes of genuine originality: impressive and highly promising.