After reading fantasy and science fiction novels for over two decades, only on the rarest of occasions will I encounter a work that totally blows my mind. Hence, I'm pleased to report that Ian McDonald's River of Gods is one such works. I was thoroughly amazed by McDonald's ambitious project.
I have heard nothing but praise pertaining to River of Gods, which understandably piqued my curiosity. But the main problem with many scifi books is that they fall in the "hard" science fiction category. As such, they are not accessible works meant for the average reader. The beauty of River of Gods is that it's a richly detailed work that will satisfy anyone interested in reading a compelling tale set in a futuristic India.
The worldbuilding is "top notch." Ian McDonald conjures up fascinating images of India's near future, with its myriad gods, cultures, castes and more. River of Gods is beyond the shadow of a doubt a thought provoking novel. Its Indian environment, now divided into several independent states, gives this book a unique flavor. It's no wonder it was nominated for a Hugo Award.
McDonald's prose certainly is evocative. The pace is at times crisp and at times slower, depending on which POV character takes center stage in each particular chapter. Although there are times, especially early on, when one wonders exactly where the author is going with this story, there is never a dull moment.
The tale unfolds through the eyes of nine POV characters, which can be a bit puzzling sometimes. But as the storylines move forward and start to converge, the author's creative genius shines through. How McDonald managed to tell this multilayered tale though the eyes of such a disparate cast of characters is beyond me. But the characterizations are well-crafted and definitely are the heart of this novel.
I've read on several message boards that some readers gave up on River of Gods because they couldn't make sense of the early portion of the book. Personally, I say stick with it, as all will make sense in due time. Discovering just how all the different plotlines come together is one of the most satisfying aspects of reading this novel.
Ian McDonald has written what could well be the best scifi novel in quite a while. River of Gods is definitely one of the books to read in 2006. For my money, it ranks among Hal Duncan's Vellum and R. Scott Bakker's The Thousandfold Thought as one of the best novels of the year.
River of Gods deserves the highest possible recommendation!
The final verdict: 9/10
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