At last! This review is the culmination of a long and tragic period during which I wanted to read on, but could only peel away time for it in frustrating slices. If my review is disjointed and nonsensical, I blame Time for its failure to properly encompass all my responsibilities and leave room for reading as well.
To start, I enjoyed Maree’s writing style. That’s actually a pretty big component to my enjoyment of a story. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a variety of styles, from the sparse and speedy style of Ernest Hemingway (though I didn’t so much enjoy his stories themselves) to the more elaborate and clever meanderings of a William Shakespeare, or the atypical writing of E Annie Proulx (The Shipping News).
Alexios has a nigh-formal descriptive style and characterization to it that, in the world of writing, tends to go one of two ways: bland and tediously overwritten, in the fashion of 18th and 19th century writers (not to short change contemporary pedants who are just as tedious); deep and meaningful in detail, as in the case of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which, oddly enough, many found overwritten—that happens when your footnotes can fill a page—but I found mesmerizing in the stories in each detail and within stories). While Alexios doesn’t quite boast the mesmerizing features of Susanna Clarke’s masterful tome, it certainly doesn’t fall into the dull world of literature from the 1700s and 1800s (sorry, Leo Tolstoy, I did love War and Peace, but not every contemporary writer was as good at making huge stories interesting—some were just huge).
The story itself is one that tells multiple, seemingly unrelated tales, while pulling the bowstring more and more taut as we approach a final revelation. Though the tales of the individuals are interesting, and hint at structural ties (each seems to involve a kind of nameless mystic identified only by their title, each distinctly mystical, yet each with a different level of connection with the ethereal) that suggest the stories are somehow related as opposed to completely arbitrary, it is the promise of the coming reveal that invariably drives a reader on. Who is Alexios? How does it tie into the theme of DEATH/NEAR-DEATH???
The answer to that question is a pretty stunning swing into the surreal and ethereal that would be shameful and rude of me to spoil for you. I will tell you that you will likely view the ending in one of two fashions: fascinating or mind-breaking.
If I were to ask myself to find a weak point in the story (I am… right now), it would be to complain that it lacks a feature it isn’t necessarily supposed to have (What!? No Laser Dragon Ships? No Sentient Air Horses? No banana-powered submarines? Expectation Fail! No stars!). What seems to be lacking for the typical reader is a hint about what the payoff might be right away. In pulp fiction books, the conclusion is often easy to spot immediately in the summary or the opening chapter, so the reader knows exactly what they’re building toward:
“Johnny Jimson, long-haired rock god and private investigator, had to be on stage for his concert in 1 hour. But someone had kidnapped his Electric Trombonist. Oh Nohs! He must find his trombonist or all his fans will be sad.”
Oftentimes an author can get away with leaving out cardinal directions if the reader is confident the author knows what they’re doing, trusting the story won’t simply meander from place to place before slumping into an arbitrary conclusion that doesn’t tie anything together. My purpose in bringing this up, oh potentially mutually concerned reader, is to indicate that isn’t the case here—there’s an obvious relationship between the characters due to the similar structure of their adventures. And there’s certainly a payoff, so don’t be put out when it’s not immediately apparent where the story is headed because no one mentions a missing Trombonist right off the bat.
If you’re looking for a story to rank highly in terms of Strictly Plot-borne Gripping Adventure, this likely isn’t for you—that’s not how this story works, necessarily. Maree does a splendid job providing anxious moments to keep the reader engaged as we build toward the conclusion. Fortunately, different stories require different grading scales, and this story ranks pretty highly on the Thoughtful-Well-Written-Tale Scale, which, as you might have guessed from the score, and me being a reasonably sensible person, is the scale I decided to use.
UNRELATED SIDE NOTE
As a completely unrelated side note that is nonetheless integral to Chance’s success as a writer, I feel compelled to point out that the author’s name, if not contrived, could hardly have been better chosen as a Catchy Author Name. In my experience, I’ve known few people with better “writing names” (the champion, of course, goes to a classmate of mine from Bowling Green: Bradley Wolfenden III). It sounds good, and no doubt looks good on the spine of a book, on which, after reading this story, I believe it has earned a place.