by The Wanderer
Author: Rjurik Davidson
Publisher: Tor Books
Dreams and Reality Rarely Align
(An advanced copy of the book was provided by the publisher).
Rjurik Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky is a mixed bag as far as fantasy novels go. The novel combines a lot of aspects I like in stories: flawed characters, morally difficult decisions, and some aspects of unpredictability.
However, major events in the story did not draw much of an emotional reaction from me as a reader. In addition to this, there are decisions made by characters that have some weak reasoning behind them, or rather a certain character seems to delay making decisions so that events in the plot can align correctly.
There is a lot of potential in Davidson’s story, and for people who are interested in reading a book where Steampunk and mythology are fused with a darker tone, you may really enjoy this story. For me personally, I liked it, but I found myself having to look past a lot of things, plus I was expecting more from this combination of ideas.
The city of Caeli-Amur is about to reach a breaking point. Ruled by three powerful houses, the masses are kept in check by the houses control of powerful thaumaturgists, well trained soldiers, and elite killers called philosopher assassins. A group called the Seditionists hides away plotting to overthrow the rulers of the city. As more classes of working people begin to revolt, the time to strike draws near. Three characters primarily narrate this story, and they all are involved in the escalating conflict.
- Kata is a philosopher assassin for House Technis. Being pulled from the streets by the House and given access to rare knowledge and a deadly art, she struggles with loyalty to her house and the horrible tasks she’s been given.
- Boris is a former Tram Worker, and now a bureaucrat for House Technis. He struggles with the human demands of the various labor groups in the city and with the unmerciful orders given to him by the House.
- Maximillian is a leading member of the Seditionist movement. Does he wish to master Thaumaturgy so that he may bring down the ruling House structure in the city, or does he want the power for himself?
The magic system is called Thaumaturgy, and it gets a vague explanation to its workings, as the author appears to want to keep the magical elements of the story, mysterious. The best aspect of the magic system is that it has a cost, and the people who seek out it’s use pay for it by having their bodies become more deformed as time passes. Max’s quest to master this magic, unfortunately turns out to be underwhelming. His character arc by the end of the book had me saying … “so now what?” While “so now what” may have potential for a sequel, it largely left me disappointed on this reading.
The biggest problem I had with the story was Boris’ lack of action against the Seditionists. Early on he is able to infiltrate the group with some spies and a monitoring device. Weak reasons are given for his not acting to the bring the group down in its infancy stage. These reasons include: Boris being too preoccupied with his romantic feelings for an enslaved Siren, and his infiltrating agent hasn’t told him where the rebel base is located … Really?
While dumb decisions on Boris’ part allow the Seditionists to conveniently grow powerful enough to rival the House system and set up the climactic final battle the book is building towards. This makes the central conflict of the entire story feel forced, and while I was initially taken in by the book in it’s early stages, it was losing me by the end.
It was difficult to feel emotionally attached to the characters despite having a lot of traits and flaws that could be identified with. This really brought down some of the long awaited moments in the plot. For example when Kata faces her philosopher assassin rival Josiane, the catharsis for their conflict got no reaction out of me. A number of events play out like this towards the end of the book, and left me wondering why I couldn’t get attached.
The aura that dominates this story can be summed up from the quote we plucked directly out of the book at the top of this article: “dreams and reality rarely align.” I couldn’t agree more with this idea, and over and over again it sticks its ugly head out in Davidson’s story. It’s an idea that should be easy for every reader to get behind, but in reality I felt like I was reading an average story in a well established fantasy world.