The Waking Engine, by David Edison

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 11, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Welcome to the City Unspoken, where Gods and Mortals come to die.

Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found.

Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker.

Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.

Thoughts: David Edison bursts onto the scene with a book that’s so filled with intelligent lyrical prose and an amazing blend of fantasy and sci-fi that left my mind twisted in the best possible way. Technology merges with faerie folklore in the City Unspoken, one of the many places a person can awaken after they’ve died, but the final place one will go when they’re ready to pass into true death, to come to the end of the cycle of rebirth and just let it all be over. Only the Dying cannot Die, things are being thrown out of balance, and Cooper, the book’s main protagonist, finds himself thrown into the midst of a series of plots and intrigues surrounding the whole mystery.

The book takes a bit of getting used to, since small hints are dropped about bigger issues that aren’t followed up on until much later, and it left me with a feeling akin to what Cooper himself must have been feeling when he found himself in an entirely new world. Which was effective if that was the point, and I can give Edison props on not giving long info-dumps to make it all make sense early on, but it still left the early parts of the book with a feeling of disjointed chaos. Things do piece themselves together by the end, though, so if you’re confused early on I do recommend just giving it some time. Sit back and enjoy Edison’s talent and skill for beautiful writing while you wait.

In spite of that seeming chaos, it’s clear that Edison is a masterful storyteller, weaving multiple plots around a similar centre without necessarily having everything come together and join up. Everyone is searching for something, be it freedom, truth, power, and it all comes back to why the Dying can’t Die and a mad fey queen who has essentially turned herself into a terrifying faerie cyborg. Yes, you read that correctly. Faerie cyborg. The way futuristic technology was seamlessly melded with elements from fantasy and folklore made for an intriguing world to read about, and more than just that, brought up interesting questions about the nature of existence and the multiverse. Books that get me thinking are good things. Books that get me thinking about different aspects of philosophy are even better!

I have to applaud the way Cooper’s sexuality was handled, too. He is gay. This doesn’t get explicitly stated so much as it’s just there for the reader to pick up. His sexuality is handled in the same was that most people write heterosexuality; a part of a person, there and perfectly normal, and I loved seeing that. His sexuality wasn’t some big reveal, wasn’t some ultimate defining characteristic, playing a part in his personality but not the only part. It was awesome to see, and it made me think of how ironic it was that the big deal about it was that there wasn’t a big deal about it.

The secondary plot that centred around Purity Kloo occasionally held my attention more than Cooper’s sections of the book, I have to say. Living in the same world but a radically different aspect of it, Purity’s life revolves around pretense and impermanently killing people for fashion mistakes. Until friends and family start being permanently Killed, and a whole mystery unravels around her to get to the bottom of that. To me her life is the very epitome of having to hide behind masks to protect yourself, something I can relate to quite well and have had my own struggles with, which is probably why her parts of the book resonated so well with me.

This is the book you read when you want a new twist on an old idea, and when you want to find yourself thinking about things long after the last page has been read and the story has been told. It’s a mind-expander, a fun and occasionally disturbing series  of mental exercises that will entertain you to the end. Edison comes across as an expert wordsmith, a superb weaver of genre-bending worlds, and I definitely want to read more of his work in the future.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

7 comments on “The Waking Engine, by David Edison

  1. Glad this book is getting some love. It wasn’t for me, unfortunately, but it was just due to personal tastes getting in the way. I know this one will be finding some fans though, I’m glad such innovative books are getting more attention!

  2. I totally happily rode the chaos in the beginning. I think spec fic has made me generally willing to trust authors that things will be explained eventually when it comes to that sort of thing ;-).

    Yes, so loved the way Cooper’s sexuality was handled as well. It was mentioned so casually at first, I was thrilled!

  3. Pingback: February in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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