3 STARS OUT OF 5
If the first 350 pages of the book had been as exciting as the last 100 pages, this book could have gotten a 5-star rating. If the appendices had been written into the first chapters of the book, instead of being appendices, the book might have actually made sense during those first 350 pages.
While science fiction, particularly the intergalactic future type of science fiction, is not my normal reading genre, the author made it difficult for me to warm up to the novel by using strings of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and multi-syllabic iterations that were supposed to express the technology of the future. The effect of such iterations was often “Do what?” And when the text ventured into the “who am I, why am I here, and what is the meaning of life” verbiage one too many times, I almost quit reading.
The dialog between the characters was often flat and ridiculously simplistic while the internal monologues of Horza, the main character, were quite expressive and insightful. This made me wonder whether that writing was deliberate or the foibles of a debut novel and new author. And, unfortunately, the formatting of the e-book was such that you had trouble telling when the story shifted from the perspective of one character to the next or shifted from one place or time to the next.
And the title of the book – I had to Google “Phlebas” before I understood the significance of that choice. While I am a prodigious reader, poetry is not something that interests me in the slightest. Therefore, it took a bit of consideration before I could understand why and how Banks associated Horza with the Phlebas character of T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” The author just didn’t make anything about this novel easy.
But the ending of the book was worth all the discipline that it took to get to those last 100 pages. The last chapter and the Epilogue brought tears. The last chapter was heartbreaking, but it took the epilogue to truly understand what happened in that last chapter. And the tears became ones of joy.
Review originally published at Amazon and Goodreads on August 6, 2013.
Cover art from Goodreads.