Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Somewhither by John C. Wright

Occasionally while reading a book, there comes a point where I pause, smile and tell myself, “This one will be special.” Sometimes it’s a particularly riveting action scene, or it’s a clever turn of phrase, or a personally relevant reference. Somewhither is full of all three, making it appeal  to different readers in a variety of ways, as most novels do. For me, the key is found near the start of the book, when Ilya, the protagonist who is not yet the hero, explains why he had made the decision to-literally-rush headlong into danger.

“It was because of the guy I wanted not to be.”

Who says that? Especially now, when self-esteem appears inversely related to achievement, when everyone is special and everyone is a hero? This protagonist does, and the contrarian that I am, I immediately suspected he would, in fact become one of the more memorable heroes by the time the story is done. And I was not wrong.

Somewhither presents a world that is both recognizable and surreal, taking comfortable sci-fi and fantasy elements and using them as only Mr. Wright can. A young man on a quest? Check. A beautiful love interest? Of course. A Big Bad of world-shattering proportions? You bet. A team of quirky sidekicks? Oh yes, big time. The novel takes all of these pieces and lifts them into the stratosphere. There scope is bigger, the questions weightier, and the over-reaching vision is like nothing you might expect to come out from the sum of its parts.

The tone of the novel, to match both the age and the attitude of the first-person narrator, is surprisingly light for a work of this ambition. It sidetracks in riffing on the tropes of modern storytelling (no, the hero assures us during one of the many tense moments, this is not a “found footage” story, and he will not keel over in Chapter 2, leaving us only with his blood stained diary!) It laments the influence that Star Trek might have on anyone traveling between the worlds. And, just to make sure everyone remembers that the story, fantastic though it might be, is actually rooted in reality, we get an off-hand mention of Planned Parenthood. In hands of a lesser writer, it could have easily been a mess, but we’re talking about the writer who gave us The Golden Age trilogy, so have a little faith.

Speaking of faith… Prayers in general, and Catholic references in particular do play an important role. If, like me, you’re not a Christian, you may even need to Google a few items. (IS there actually a patron saint of throat ailments? Apparently, yes.) I will tell no more, for fear of spoilers, except to say that the inclusion of faith is both necessary to the story and organic to the character.

The pacing is near perfect, alternating between breathtaking, at times extremely violent, action and the slower sections that allow the reader to absorb the wealth of information about the world. Although Amazon estimates the novel at over 500 pages, it comes to the end almost too quickly and provides just enough closure to make us impatient for the sequel, which, rumor has it, is in the works. I, for one, can’t wait.

Buy Somewhither on Amazon