Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

Publisher: Tor
Date: October 12, 2010
Where I got it: Library!

Blurb (Amazon)

The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.
To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People, who live at one with the earth and its elements. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.

It's no secret (for those who know me) that I lightly dabble in writing from time to time. One of the ideas that I have sloshing around in my brain is for a fantasy western with x-men style powers. So, whenever I see a book that has elements of the wild west and magic, I automatically have to give it a go. And I have to say, I'm very glad that I gave The Half-Made World a go.

The novel starts with an excellent prologue, where The General, who is losing his mind, tries desperately to cling to anything that he can remember. This gives us a lot of information to work with, and helps us understand a great deal about the world, The Gun, and The Line before we really get started.

As much as I enjoyed the prologue, I have to be honest and say that I quickly found myself very close to putting the book down just a few pages later. Liv's character wasn't someone that I seemed to be able to immediately relate to, for whatever reason, and her character and the pace of her storyline nearly caused me to put the book down. This was only something that affected me for her first few chapters, so to anyone that buys this book on the strength of this review, push on! There's great stuff in store for all the characters.

Creedmor, and agent of The Gun, saved me in chapter 2. From there, it was smooth sailing. I fell for the loveable rogue, though Creedmor seems to have less to love than most. Sometimes it's easy to get drawn to a character like him, though. Fast, wreckless, dangerous, and devious, his story kept me turning pages. His view of the world, and his conversations with his superiors were equal parts sarcastic, depressing and enlightening.

Creedmor's counterpart, sub-invigilator, grade 3 Lowry, was perhaps the most interesting character of the three. His view of how the world should be organized was frightening, and, unfortunately, all-too-visible in our modern world. It's safe to say that he quickly took the number two spot on my favorites list.

These three distinct characters all converge on the mental institution, and that's where things start to get weird (in a good way). We finally start to see just what sort of magic the hill folk have, and we start to see how different and dangerous The West is. In this magical, half-made world, the danger is much more menacing and dark than just a horse-thief or a bandit. It won't spoil anything to say that the world is literally half-made, and on the edges of civilization, things can get strange and dangerous in scary, magical ways. And, since Gilman's a great writer, he makes sure they do.

Probably the single biggest problem that I had with The Half-Made World was the ending. It wasn't abrupt, with a monster cliffhanger like some first or second books have. It wasn't too drawn out, either. No, the problem here was that there was so much promise in the first book, that even with a very complete and solid ending, there was too much mystery for me to enjoy that ending. Don't get me wrong. A lot happens in this story. Still, the ending made me ponder whether or not Gilman's barely scratching the surface of his worldbuilding and storyline. If he is, then I can't imagine what's in store for the sequel, The Rise of Ransom City. But I desperately want to.

I loved

  • The Weird West. So much raw danger and potential for great stories.
  • Creedmor. He's a dark, depressing man that makes a lot of bad decisions, and seems to get some satisfaction from his work. And yet you'll find yourself wondering if maybe there's just an ounce more Batman than Joker in there, and rooting for him.
  • The mix of steampunk and western was excellent, and there needs to be more of this. Right now! Go! Start writing!
I hated

  • The ending. There's still so much that could be done, and so many amazing things that can happen. And yet, I can't imagine them happening in one sequel, and that makes me a sad panda.
The Half-Made World is one of those rare books where I didn't seem to truly enjoy the beginning or the end, but still found myself loving the whole thing. No number rating for this one. I think I'm done with those. Instead, I'll just say that if you like The Wild West and you like fantasy, then you should already have read this book.