It has a character driven plot and the characters are really well explored and fleshed out with many layers of chaos driving them apart and yet connecting them forever. Petre Mercy, the singular point of view character is a 23 year old autistic quadruplet, a prince of the realm who is trying to survive in a hostile dystopian world full of things that are trying to kill him and technology which makes use of the dead: ‘corpse technology’:
“Two Annihilations can make animal life hard to sustain. Labcoats spent generations manufacturing band aid solutions. Growing our meat. Creating ecosystems, or balancing them when the previous species they’d concocted died away. The Outlying Islands provided us with the raw materials we needed, and the labcoats took their raw tech and found uses for it. Cyborg horses were the solution to our transportation problem.”
Petre has a richly chaotic inner dialogue in which he tries to make sense of his surroundings and his familial relationships. He occasionally breaks the fourth wall in order to talk to the reader and warn them when something extraordinary is about to happen as he retells this story. He grew up in a Machiavellian and abusive royal household from which he escaped at the age of eighteen, but now that his sister is about to be crowned queen he finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to return to court to face his siblings and mother once again. For the last five years since he ran away from home, Petre has been working for Mercedes, an important political figure, killing Gaunts (dead people inhabited by the ghost of another dead person, often violent) and has built an independent life for himself, if still dealing with the emotional fallout of his upbringing.
“I always have trouble killing Gaunts,” I said. “They never asked to be what they are.” Nobody tries to breathe in ghostfog. To get infected with dead lives. But once it happens the results are rarely pretty. You have to put them down before they hurt someone.”
He needs injections every so often to keep his muscles working correctly and to make him a competent fighter, and able to function normally in society. This leads to some hilariously surreal scenes in which his muscles seem to have a mind of their own. There is a strong thread of surreal humour running through this novel which keeps it light despite the copious amounts of darker themes.
One of the more prominent themes in the novel is that of unconditional familial love. How someone can be so annoying that they drive you to the point you want to kill them and yet you still love them because they are your family:
“Everything hurts and your throat is raw and you’re choking and you’re crying and you can’t tell up from down anymore because all there is is incandescence everywhere you look.
This is a one-of-a-kind character driven novel and the four siblings are each written with distinct many-layered personalities. Petre is a masterpiece of insecurity and self doubt and the world-building is outrageously original. I am keen to see how these dysfunctional royals and their relationships will pan out over the rest of this series.