Published by Silverwood
Cover by Jim Burns
I was given this book in return for an honest review.
On the Bristol SF scene, Justin Newland is known as the man who asks interesting questions. At readings or during panels you can rely on him to ask the authors a penetrating question, and from that habit, you know that he thinks deeply about things. It’s obvious that the same deep thought has gone into this antediluvian tale (and bless him for doing a pre-flood story so I can use the word antediluvian in the review) as well as lot of good old fashioned hard work.
We are in a prehistoric time and there are three races upon Earth – humans, who have been promised “The Surge”, an evolutionary leap, by the Source; Solarii , a race of angels who have taken human form, who have been tasked by the Source to aid the humans and the hybrids – a strange genetic mish-mash resulting from the rape of humans in the past by another race of angels called the Helios, who are now banished and trapped.
There is a short sample from a “Book of Enoch” that gives you a very brief sit-rep then Newland drops you straight into a complex world and you run to catch up whilst gawking at the colourful societies he conceives for your pleasure.
The Earth bears some similarity to our own except for the fact that there are “sky-waters” through which green sunlight falls upon the land.
There are two main characters – Akasha, revealed in the prologue as “mother to you all” and Horque, a dour Solarii elite. When Akasha prophecies that the sky-waters will fall and flood the Earth that starts an apocalyptic countdown. The main thrust of the plot is the burgeoning relationship between the two main characters.
There’s a lot to like here with a healthy dash of Newland’s own unique vision on top of enough Egyptian mythology to provide handy route signs along the way. The magic system, the Astral, is well-developed and not overbearing (unlike some magic systems can be in epic fantasy) and Newland has a great turn of phrase when it comes to similies, often animal related – “A whisper scurried around the crowd like a busy scarab beetle.” or “The crowd bayed at the scribe like a pack of hyenas.” and some of the locations were evocative, I especially liked the Whispering Tower – “From this gallery they say you can hear fragments of every conversation in the world.”
The pre-flood era is a blank canvas apart from Biblical accounts and Newland threads some of those in – there is, of course, an Ark – but what the author does with the bare bones is often surprising and original.
I would have liked there to have been a little more development of the non-Egyptian societies, and sometimes the language and interactions felt Biblical – although there was no “wailing and gnashing of teeth” there could well have been – but that could be seen as a strength as it is all part of reifying the worldbuilding, and I suspect it was deliberate. Bits also felt like they were part of some vast world behind the world being presented and only briefly introduced rather than given the chance to fully breathe. This gave a sense of confinement to the text, as though a much bigger story was stuffed into the small space of just one book.
Newland has a knack of taking the disparate pebbles of history and building a structure from them. He’s done this in his published short stories and in this, his first novel. He is currently working on a novel inspired by the great wall of China. I look forward to seeing what worlds his imaginative writing will build from that.