This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Next up for the #SPSFC we have The Binding Tempest, first book of The Luminance Saga, by Steven Rudy. For the purposes of this contest, let’s agree that it was sci-fi but I’ll go into more detail below.
I felt for this book, I really did. I identified with it. This book … this book is me. Complete with the arguably unnecessary padding. More of us to love, that’s the justification.
There’s more of us to love.
Okay, this started weird, so let’s get into it. The Binding Tempest is not a science-fiction story, but then it’s not a fantasy story either. It’s kind of a steampunk outing but that’s just because of the New World and Revolutionary War theme, not to mention the horses and guns and zeppelins. Don’t be misled by the horses and guns and zeppelins, as the old Aztec saying goes. They exist only to lead you into strange rooms where men with odd facial hair–
This is not getting any less weird. Sorry. I blame the Aztecs. My point is, this is a distinctly genre nonbinary story and I love that. It’s inspiring. When I read a book and it makes me want to get back to my own writing, it’s either because the book is terrible (this wasn’t) or because the book reminds me of why I love to read, and love to write. This was that.
So, there was magic and early industrial stuff as well as high energy weapons and portals and automatons. Awesome! There were different lands and histories and relics and politics and the whole tapestry was so incredibly rich. And the maps! I loved them. Extra credit for the maps, I want an A3 glossy print edition of this book just for the maps, the Kindle really didn’t do them justice (who zooms? Not me).
There were a couple of great characters in it. Qudin, from the moment he first does his quantum magic thing and bleeds from the ears, absolutely charmed me. The setup of his backstory with the Sagean Emperor felt a little bit like Szeth in the Stormlight books by Sanderson, but so what? Tali, and her magic pressure-blowouts, well she’s just purely epic. Loved it. And Ellaria Moonstone, aka Ms. Moonstone, is amazing (in fact compared to her, most of the other characters were a bit run-of-the-mill and she could have been edited into being the most central, perhaps even lone, point of view). And she’s in her late fifties! Mature female protagonists, represent.
So what was the problem?
Okay, so I have to say there was a bit of clumsy language throughout, that made it difficult to engage with. The story had a lot of exposition and description, and you have to combine that with readability or it’s going to be really obvious there’s pages and pages of exposition and description. Take it from a known waffler. It’s nothing a round of good hard editing couldn’t improve, but this is a very big and very dense book so said edit would be a large undertaking. The story needs the exposition, because ultimately this book is an exploration of a world and its history set against the backdrop of a motley hero group on a quest, rather than the other way around. But that means a lot of it needs to be stripped and cut down and washed out.
I am a big fan of the Massive Worldbuilding Infodump metagenre, so keep in mind that I suspect my tolerance will be higher than average. This book is a very deep, very loving tour of a world that obviously took a ton of creative effort. Our heroes seem to do a lot of treasure hunting and digging up of old knowledge, which to me was quite enjoyable to read for its own sake – but it does tend to leave the overall plot feeling messy and difficult to quantify. The titular Binding Tempest is the result of the Quantum Man and the Sagean fighting, which generated the power to unleash the Wrythen, and I think that’s what they were trying to do something about? Considering that the action keeps clipping along, it is at once busy and aimless. Also it’s a part one, so the ultimate story arc is incomplete anyway.
I had a smile at the Hex-like computer and I definitely enjoyed the big old guard robot thing towards the end, that was when it really started to feel like a science fiction story (the epilogue was almost entirely sci-fi) but like I say – I don’t believe in stories having to be one thing or another. Stories don’t work that way. Sorting machines do.
After all the build-up, the final showdown and revelations seemed strange and abrupt. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is a symptom of the Massive Worldbuilding Infodump metagenre. Overall, I quite enjoyed this but I think maybe the best way to tell the story would be to just have the characters exist in that world, and let the reader know the author is intimately familiar with it rather than attempting to upload the same level of familiarity to the reader. That will happen organically over time and (I hope) many books.
This, again, wasn’t that sort of story. Stop trying to have sex with me, we’re in the middle of a deep dive through an entire science fiction / fantasy atlas, history book and encyclopaedia here! Goodness, there’s a time and a place, okay? Anyway yeah, you get the point. The Binding Tempest gets an atlas, a history book and an encyclopaedia out of a possible one sexual intercourse.
There was some good action, some thrilling and violent wolverack attacks (loved the critters in this book!), some blood and fighting. But overall there wasn’t much more gore than there was sex. It was fine, one flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.
A rich, heavy vein of WTF runs through this story, as it should when we’re talking a genre-defying spray of unconstrained creative juicery. Most of the WTF is explained, of course, so TF is quite solidly quantified by the time we’ve explored Rudy’s impressive world. We know exactly WTF TF is all about, if we’ve paid attention while TF is being outlined for us. So stop asking. The WTF-o-meter gives this a Spearpoint / Godscraper out of a possible Dark Tower.
My Final Verdict
I can only admire the scope and ambition of this story, and reiterate how great the maps and illustrations were. Ultimately there was just so much worldbuilding and exposition to fit into the story, the story itself got lost in the woods. And that’s saying something, coming from me! Three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.