Absolutes are the hallucinations of culture.
Viscera by Gabriel Squailia is a 2016 book I didn’t get the chance to read last year. I am so glad I made a point to keep it on my TBR because it’s unlike anything I’ve read recently. It’s EXCELLENT.
A secondary world fantasy in which the viscera of Gone-Away Gods literally sustain the bowels of a great city, Viscera follows disparate characters whose stories converge to make up a picture of the Great City of Eth.
It starts with two different storylines: one that follows a pair of drug addicts and Fortune’s worshippers (at least to some extent), called Rafe and Jassa, who disembowel a woman to sell her viscera to the mysterious Puppeteer in exchange for more drugs. Rafe is a Deuce to Jassa’s Ace, but a turn of dice changes their relative power interactions right from the start. That change and ensuing upheaval will have dire consequences.
Meanwhile, the woman they disembowelled is in fact, an immortal going by the name of Ashlan Ley, whose regenerative powers make her a literal source of viscera—a point that the Puppeteer has not in fact, missed. When she wakes up after her most recent death, she is met by a mannikin named Hollis, who wants nothing more than to meet – and destroy – his maker.
Ashlan and Hollis chase the two thieves in the hopes they will lead them to the Puppeteer and their stories converge when they meet a sorceress who lives in the woods with her reanimated bear.
A novel of great imagination and even greater characters, Viscera drops the reader in the middle of a messy situation that slowly progresses toward a world-changing climax. The few elements of world-building are peppered across a vivid landscape that comes to life thanks to its fantastic characters and their motivations. Ashlan is a lonely, quiet woman who just keeps her head down and who – after living for hundreds of year – just wishes to die. Hollis has been brought to life in a mimicry of living and is deeply repulsed by his maker. Her voice is soft, his is abrasive, their relationship complex due to elements best left unspoiled.
Jassa is a bigot and a religious fanatic, the counterpoint to Rafe, whose attempt to join the Fortune cult is part of a desperate attempt to simply continue living. His past is probably the best developed and his character the best one in the novel. From his home life to his story within the Eth, Rafe is a young trans man in a world that hates who he is. At least for now. To the last point, one of the most interesting aspects of Viscera is the question of history and continued change. Eth has been under the rule of different people and each time a new leader comes, everything changes. And here is the real story being told in Viscera, its ending a powerful, beautiful, and uplifting resolution to these storylines, especially Rafe’s.
Viscera is super gruesome but not actually gross. It depicts trans oppression and persecution but it’s actually a hopeful, revolutionary story of turning the tables, literally from the inside out.
In Booksmugglerish: 9 out of 10.