I tried really hard to love The Promise of the Child, Tom Toner’s debut novel from Gollancz (review copy from NetGalley). I love space opera, and a braided novel that combines high politics with epic space battles ought to be right up my street.
There is a lot to like. The world-building is complex and rich. A wealthy, immortal elite (the Amaranthines) rule the galaxy, but their numbers are diminishing as individuals slip into madness over time, and they are increasingly turning away from the world, consumed by their own internal politics. The immortals are ruled by the longest-lived among them, and an individual has appeared who claims to be even older than their current Emperor. Meanwhile, the post-human diaspora across the galaxy is becoming increasingly restless and rebellion is brewing. A new super-weapon has been created and there are those who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. The themes in the book of small, wealthy and distant elites becoming increasingly distanced from the people they rule are highly topical, and the persistance of bigotry and racism in the far future was dealt with sensitively.
But the novel suffers from a lot of first-novel flaws. The three strands to the novel are so tonally distinct that it interferes with the flow of the story. The plotting is choppy at times, and there is an over-reliance on explaining after the fact what characters have been seeking to achieve, which takes the reader out of the story and jars with the third person perspective. The world-building is rich, but at times becomes intrusive. At times the writer pushes particularly cool bits of world-building to the fore to show them off, but it interrupts the flow of the story. It would be better to let them sit in the background, adding depth to the world-building. And I really struggled to connect with Lycaste, the protagonist of one of the three strands of the story. The most beautiful Melius on his world, he’s lived an isolated existence at the very edge of the world. He’s lonely, naive and suffers unrequited love for a neighbour until a bureaucrat from elsewhere arrives and turns his world upside down. I must confess I struggled to find his lack of knowledge about the world convincing, or to care much about such an angry, petulant teenager.
Goodreads rating: 2*