I haven’t seen worldbuilding of this breadth and scale since Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, or Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space. That’s not to say that the story is anything like those other series, but the worldbuilding is just as expansive as they are, if not more. It’s just absolutely massive, and well thought through. I think when all is said and done The Amaranthine Spectrum will stand at a similar level as those Culture/New Sun/Revelation Space novels in the canon of great SF works.
This is far future Speculative Fiction with tight roots to its past. A lot of that past is still the future for us, some is closer to our present, and some is our past both recent and ancient. The future of 14,6xx that Toner has assembled is fascinating. Humanity has fractured into a prism of species, spread across the galaxy. There are various wars between them and among them. At the top of the power structure and social hierarchy are the Amaranthine, the descendants of humanity who have unlocked some of the secrets of immortality. But, a new secret has been unlocked by a member of a lower – as far as the Amaranthine are concerned – Prism species, and a new challenger to the Amaranthine’s rule is gaining traction among some of their factions. Things are changing for the first time in a long time.
The story starts in the deep end, and you have to learn to swim in this world to understand what’s going on. I’ve always been a big fan of this approach to storytelling. It’s more challenging, but it makes the story that much more rewarding, the journey that much more exciting as you unpack things in your mind. This learning-to-swim stage lasts for around 200 pages or so, and then you’ve firmly got it and you’re swept away in the novel. There’s a lot of mystery, secretive dealings and espionage in the story, which always adds a fun layer for me. The prose is fluid and beautiful, the characters and their societies well rounded and interesting. The narrative throughout is subtle and requires some focus at times. This isn’t a book that spoon feeds the reader; you have to pay attention, but your attention is rewarded.
This first book in the series feels a little disjointed at times on a first read. Mostly I think it had a lot of heavy lifting to do, introducing the reader to this massive universe, and telling a compelling story at the same time, are difficult tasks to do simultaneously. It mostly succeeds at both, but sometimes I felt a little lost in it. I believe it will age very well when taken in context with the series as a whole. Flipping back and rereading parts after finishing, I think it has huge potential for future rereads. This is one of those books that you get a lot more out of the second time through, when the worldbuilding is already established, and you can just enjoy the story and let it take you on a journey.
I’m excited for the second book in this series for the same reason: a lot of the heavily lifting has already been done. I can’t wait to see where this all goes. It’s new and fascinating territory.