Crystal Rain, by Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell was born on Grenada; he is of mixed racial heritage. He moved to the U.S. right before he started college, surgeon and attended Bluffton College, located in middle-of-nowhere, Ohio. (I can say that because my father was born there.) He still lives in Bluffton, Ohio, and complains about its land-lockedness. (I’m pretty sure he knows about Lake Erie.) He started publishing short-form fiction in 2000, just after attending Clarion East and around his 21st birthday, and Tor published this, his first novel, in 2006. They also gave it away as a free e-book during their spate of free e-books last year. There are, to my knowledge, two sequels published as of yet.

Nanagada is a smallish continent on a world that has been populated by people who used to live in the Caribbean on Earth, several hundred years ago. They share the continent with the Azteca, who are obviously of Central and South American heritage. The Nanagadans worship the Loa, and the Azteca the Teotls. Of course, they have major differences, and these erupt in a full-blown invasion at some point. John de Brun, a fisherman and sailor living towards the southern part of the land, is apparently the man of the hour — two men are looking for him, both to get the codes for the Ma Wi Jung, whatever that is. But John de Brun has no idea what they’re talking about, because he’s got amnesia prior to about twenty years ago. Can the Nanagadans survive, and will John live?

Being that Mr. Buckell is from the Caribbean and I am not (despite our shared Ohio residence), I can only assume that his characters’ dialect is based on a Caribbean speech pattern. It’s very consistent and fairly musical, and quite easy to read. The characters all seem to look and act in a Caribbean fashion — worshiping the Loa, who are the gods of vodou (voodoo); fishing and sailing; having hair in dreadlocks. It was definitely a different world from the standard speculative fiction realm, and I thought it was quite well-done and revelatory. I’d definitely love to see more well-done novels written in a Caribbean-type setting, whether it’s historical or futuristic, like this one.

John de Brun, our main character, has a hook for a hand, and a lot of backstory. We don’t even find out about the majority of it until nearly the end of the book. Because of that, he’s kind of fascinating. Two of the men going after him — Oaxyctl and
Pepper — are actually even more mysterious. We don’t really get a lot of explanations until the very end, and even then, we’re left to imagine some. It actually works, in this case. There are a lot of different narrators — everyone mentioned in this paragraph, plus John’s son Jerome, and Dihana the Prime Minister (female) — so a lot of the suspense is maintained through dramatic irony. It’ll probably take Mr. Buckell ten more books to explain everything we need to know about these characters, but I never felt as if I’d missed something — just that there was more yet to be revealed.

This book wasn’t exactly to my tastes. As I mentioned above, his worldbuilding and characters are superb and the plot was well-done, but I didn’t enjoy reading it. Unlike some other fiction I’ve reviewed on here, though, I know the fault lies with me and not with Mr. Buckell. I’m fully capable of realizing that this is a well-written book. The science part wasn’t too hard, and the war-and-politics plot felt strong and I agonized with some of the decision-making. I did wish that there were more female characters — we had one and perhaps a half, if you count some incidental mentions all together as a second partial female character. I would still definitely recommend it, unless one is looking for a lot of strong female characters. 4.5/5 stars.

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