Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer—a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.
The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labelling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.
And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…
“Perhaps, my distant reader, you are floundering again among the names and details of our forgotten politics. The specifics mean little, it is the fact of these hidden ties that matter.”
Too Like the Lightning is utterly unique. I have never read anything like it. Not even sort of like it.
And I should say that I absolutely hated it.
I hated the main character. I hated the prose. I hated just how long it took me to read it. I hated how it was the hardest book I have probably ever tried to read because of how hard it was to get into and the wonky prose. I hated the way the main character talked to the reader. I hated how absolutely nothing made sense for two thirds of the damn book, and the way the world building was set up we would learn of CORE CONCEPTS on page 1 that didn’t get explained until page 300.
“But keikii,” you’re saying. “You rated this book four stars!” Yes, I did dear reader. Because while I hated this damn book, every single second spent reading it was 100% worth it.
Which brings be to the linguistic patterns of this book, which are just so damn bizarre. Yes, Mycroft Canner talks like the above paragraph to the reader. A lot. Then, it combines that old, late 1800s style of writing (think Sherlock Holmes, and not just because the main character’s name is Mycroft) with a modern day pacing. All while heaping in a whole SHITLOAD of new terms at you on every single page, which you just kind of have to hold into your memory as long as you can until FINALLY it is explained and you FINALLY understand what the hell is going on. Let me tell you, this book probably makes a hell of a lot more sense on the second go around.
Each word is like a zip file, and I have to unzip every word before moving on to the next just to understand anything. Plus there are so many people, all of which go by different names depending on which group is talking. One character in particular has about 20 names and titles they are known by. And I’m just expected to know them all. Before I even meet the fucker. I about died reading this.
PLUS THE GENDERS! HOLY GODS, THE GENDERS! KILL ME! The world is set up bizarre. Everyone is supposed to be gender neutral, because that is polite in this society. Yet Mycroft fucking Canner over here, telling us what gender everyone is. And then changing it. Sometimes several times. Because fuck me, right?
Then there are several groups that function as countries, but they exist worldwide. And don’t ask me how long it took to understand that particular concept. There is no more war. There isn’t really anyone going hungry or in need. People are doing all right. It is a futuristic world, and things are just set up differently. And it serves the majority of people. And there are the slaves they have made of their prisoners who have wronged society, and now have to give back to that society by serving it.
Which brings us to the main character, the narrator. Mycroft Canner. He did something heinous. Everyone in the world knows who he is and what he did. People hate him. He would be dead by mob if people found out he still lived. And he is a servicer, slave to society, and he is trying to make things right. But also, he is super connected to everyone in upper society, and every job he does is connected to the Leaders of the world in every single way. He works and works and works. He has secrets within secrets within secrets. And trying to figure out all those parts is so bloody difficult because Mycroft fucking Canner won’t bleeding tell you.
He won’t tell you anything until he absolutely has to. Because he is the world’s most unreliable narrator. Oh, he tells you the truth, alright. A hell of a lot of truths get thrown around the entire damn time. Do you understand these truths? No. Are they caged in terms that you’ll understand what he means? Hell, no. Is it the truth? Unfortunately, yes. Is it the only truth? No. No no no no no. See: gender rant above. Mycroft Canner has perfected the art of telling the truth, but not the whole truth. And that is what makes him unreliable. You can’t trust a single fucking word out of that man’s mouth.
Not only because he is a criminal and declared mentally insane.
Yet Too Like the Lightning has one of the most compelling reasons to keep reading: the mysteries. There is the mystery of Bridger, the little kid you meet in the first chapter, who has the powers of God! Then there are all the many, many mysteries of just what the fuck Mycroft Canner is talking about. The biggest mystery of the book, I didn’t even understand why we kept talking about it the entire book, until the very end.
Then that ending. Holy shit. That ending made this entire rant worth it. The entire read was worth it.
What even is this book?! How did we get here from there?! I DON’T UNDERSTAND!
The events of this book took place over the course of four days. FOUR DAYS! How? HOW?! HOW DID THIS ALL TAKE PLACE IN FOUR DAYS?! We start the book on an invasion into a house. We find out this house is a very, very, very important house, and if this house’s activities are stopped there are massive consequences to economic and social stability.
Where we end up…. Where we end up is so utterly and completely not where we started I cannot even begin to describe what happened without ruining the book. Certain things come to light that you don’t see coming. Except you were told they were going to happen by Mycroft “I can’t fucking believe what you’re saying, even when I understand it” Canner.
This book is insane. It wraps up philosophy and psychology with science fiction. And it makes so much more sense when you read Ada Palmer’s bio and learn what she has studied.
Yet you still won’t see a single thing coming in this book.
To read more reviews for this series, check out the Terra Ignota series page!