Primae Noctis by Aimery Thomas. I received this book free in exchange for an honest review. You can purchase your own copy at Amazon.
Description: Humanity had passed far beyond any reasonable expectation of redemption. The dark veil of fear and night would descend upon every person on Earth.
A frightful, new age had begun.
It was the first night of humanity, now known as the Calamity: a time of global crisis that led to the deaths of more than 99% of the world’s 13.6 billion inhabitants.
Sixty years later, and with the guidance of the Archonae, the survivors live in an idyllic society of secure and protected cities designed to elevate humanity to its full potential and prevent the problems of the past from recurring.
However, not everyone is content with life in the new utopia.
Primae Noctis follows a diverse cast of characters through an expansive, future world:
Nan Allegra is a political historian with outspoken views. She is in pursuit of a mystery that no one else seems to care about, but could be of critical importance to the future.
Archon Devlin is responsible for the Recovery, a global programme to recycle the remains of the former cities of Earth into useful, raw materials. He is deeply concerned with the future direction of humanity.
Jones is a man who doesn’t remember his first name or his past, but hopes to change the future. His mission is to assemble a group of citizens in the world’s second-largest city to aid him on his quest.
Reginald Mullen is a Knight charged with protecting the citizens from the dangers of the Wilderness. He finds strength in ensuring a secure future for the citizens of his city.
Franklin Murakami is an administrator and designer at the largest nanotech production facility in the world. His designs help to shape the future.
Sylvie Mathieu is an AIC administrator in Republica. She has never engaged in an intimate relationship with anyone, and only cares about the future of her daughter, Leila.
Henry Roston is an engineer who lives a carefree existence and spends his leisure time in the Entertainment District of the city. For him, the future is the present.
Primae Noctis is the first in a trilogy of high-concept, science fiction novels filled with action, intrigue, and suspense.
With a tasteful modicum of violence, sexuality, history, and philosophy, Primae Noctis was written for the adult, hard science fiction audience by author, Aimery Thomas.
Review: This is going to be a really difficult review to write, because I’m kind of conflicted in what I thought about this book. To give you an idea of how many thoughts I’ll be wrangling, I should explain how it works. As I read, I take notes — usually stream of consciousness stuff and first reactions — on my iPhone. I then email said notes to myself, put it into a document and try to turn it into a review.
Primae Noctis is epic length, over 650 pages in its print version. I have four Word pages worth of notes to condense.
Admittedly, the majority of them never see the review. They are reactionary, unpolished, and often relate to spoilers. Still, I have to make sense of the melee to write a decent review. And since I had a lot of thoughts about this book, it’s a lot of melee! I need a sword and shield just to survive it, I think…
…but I digress.
I think I generally liked it, but still found it a little hard to read. Thomas is a very exacting writer, which is okay, but for my tastes, it makes the writing kind of dense. I had been concerned about the “hard” science fiction angle, but the tech/science wasn’t a problem. It was mostly that everything world-building related seems to be described in detail, down to clothing and food. Thomas reminds me of a sci-fi Robert Jordan. That works very well for a lot of people, but I apparently am a little hyper when reading. I tend to want to keep up a quicker pace.
And when the writing is too exact, it can make you feel disconnected from the story and characters, it’s harder to feel what they feel and can give the prose an almost bloodless quality at points. It’s a delicate line and the writing in Primae Noctis tended to straddle the fence for much of the beginning.
I felt like the story dragged through much of the first 40% (roughly 250 pages). The first several chapters don’t seem to see many things happening, but just introduce you to the characters. Which is fine, we need to know them, but I like to see more plot at the same time. I would rather more plot and less world building details. But again, this could just be me.
There was a real feel hearkening back to the cinematic days of “Logan’s Run” and its like, which I think was part of my problem: everything seemed to be written out like describing a movie visual with every detail. I prefer things a little fuzzier, so I can make my own pictures.
Semi-related to the “hearkening feel,” the book had a strange quality of sliding between originality and stereotype. I found the world building and technology to be very precise and intriguing, even if I didn’t feel like I needed to see as much as I did. I liked the cohort marriage idea, though I worried that the book would end up demonizing the idea as being part of the “bad” society, but that didn’t happen. (Hopefully it won’t in the next book.) There were elements of the story — such as the history of the Calamity and the connections of the Anarchon’s early comrades, along with a few other things — that stood out and I liked.
Yet on the other side, a lot of the book didn’t feel very new or ground breaking in the genre. Which is fine, few books truly do and no story can be truly original, but with a book of such heft, I guess my expectations got a little high.
Sometimes it felt like character development was sacrificed for world building: emotional reactions in scenes went from A to C without time on B. Like, person A says something that person B reacts hugely to, when what A said wasn’t yet that big a deal You want to see more emotional build up before B hits the ceiling. To understand it and feel it yourself. Such as the Reveal talk between Jones and Nan. I would have liked to have seen more foreshadowing in Nan before she accepts it so easily.
And sometimes there were large events that caused interpersonal schisms, but we only returned to those characters when things were good again. We didn’t see the changing and the healing, even if we saw the breaking.
Despite the slow start, around 40% there is a Major Event, and things really do start picking up after that. While what I said above about sacrificing a bit of a character and a little too much world building remains true, it wasn’t as pronounced. Emotional reactions we saw started making sense.
In fact, it almost felt like I was reading two different books. In the first half, I didn’t really like how many of the female characters were portrayed, but that improved in the second half. The prose felt a little bloodless in the first half, but that improved in the second. None of the characters really “grabbed” me in the first half, but they did in the second… etc., etc.,
I did like a lot of elements of the story. By the end, I was very much keeping my fingers crossed for the cohort, and I liked Jones and Prospero a lot. I ended up liking Reg and Alysha and Ito, too. I thought the Major Event around 40% was well done, if naturally harsh, and I thought Ito’s Big Scene towards the end was very well done.
So, here’s where I’m conflicted. If I would review/rate this book based on the first half, I probably wouldn’t like it. Just on the second, I would… but since I usually judge a book more by how it ends than by how it starts, I’m going with I liked it. Although I struggled early on, I did get into it in that latter half and I want to know what happens next enough that I’ll probably get the next book.
I think I gotta give this one 3.5 Fireballs.