(Gollancz, £12.99, 565 pages, hardback, published 27 November
2003. Mass market paperback: Gollancz, £6.99, 662 pages, 13 May 2004.)
Twenty years have passed since the events of Redemption Ark,
and Clavain, Scorpio and several thousand refugees from Resurgam are
out on the oceanic world of Ararat. Meanwhile the Inhibitors have continued
their advance across human space, pushing back a defiant wave of Conjoiners.
The secret of the Conjoiners' defence against the Inhibitors is Aura,
the more-than-human daughter of Ana Khouri, late of the 'Nostalgia for
Infinity' ... When Khouri splashes down on Ararat, the 'Infinity's'
resting place, demanding help to get her daughter back from the Conjoiners,
a chain of events is forged that will take the 'Infinity' and its passengers
from Ararat to the miraculous world of Hela. Miraculous, because the
gas giant it orbits periodically winks out of existence, to be replaced
for a fraction of a second by something very strange indeed. Miraculous,
because it may provide humanity with the means to defeat the Inhibitors.
Reynolds' epic space opera ends on something of a muted note. Redemption
Ark seems more melancholic on the whole than its predecessors, not
least in the sombre pacing of the bulk of the book. Like the Adventist
cathedrals on Hela inching their way towards the titular abyss, Gap
rolls at a stately but unrelenting measure towards its precipitous conclusion,
although it doesn't exactly end with a crash. The ending, in best Reynolds
tradition, doesn't offer an absolute resolution so much as a transformation
into something new; some readers may, however, be disappointed by the
absence of a definite slam-bang conclusion to the Inhibitors saga. Personally,
I found the ending satisfyingly devious, and that's worth a dozen hearty
explosions in my book.
The thing I like most about Reynolds' fiction is that he genuinely
conveys a sense of the scale of it all, particularly of the time it
would take for an interstellar tale of this sort to unfold. Constrained
(I'm loath to say "limited") to travel at relativistic speeds, the story
spans a century of objective time, which by extension gives a much better
feel of the distances involved than would a two-hour hop to the star
system next door. It's gratifying that Reynolds' ideas are sufficiently
large-scale to do justice to the vast canvas on which they are drawn,
and even in this final volume in the saga there's new and astonishing
The characterisation is as good as ever, and there is a fantastic new
grotesque double act in Quaiche and Grelier, the duo responsible for
establishing the Adventist faith on Hela. Strangely, the characters
who come off as the most human are the non-humans: Scorpio, the man-pig
hybrid, who discovers new strengths in himself as he attempts to govern
the humans in his care; and the 'Nostalgia for Infinity', a.k.a. Captain
John Brannigan, whose fitting swansong this novel is. Reynolds' Gothic
tendencies are also in full display here, in the 'Infinity' and in Hela's
cathedrals (what better setting for Gothicism than a cathedral?), and
in the machinations of the mysterious "shadows" ...
Absolution Gap is not without its faults, chief among them the
sudden hurtle to the end in the last few chapters, which seems rather
abrupt after five hundred pages of leisurely, atmospheric prose. Overall,
though, an excellent final volume in the story of the Inhibitors. Reynolds
has clearly hit his stride now, and it'll be interesting to see where
he goes from here.
Review by John Toon.
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