Since Ian Tregillis' The Milkweed Triptych turned out to be one of my favorite speculative fiction series of the new millennium, I was pretty excited when I discovered that Something More Than Night would be released at the end of the year. It's been described as "a brain-bending combo of angelic cosmogony, high-level physics and meta-noir," so a double-dose of Tregillis in 2013 sounded like heaven!
And yet, Something More Than Night appeared to be a world away from what made Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, and Necessary Evil so awesome. Which made me wonder if the author could somehow pull it off once more. . .
Here's the blurb:
Ian Tregillis's Something More Than Night is a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas’s vision of Heaven. It’s a noir detective story starring fallen angels, the heavenly choir, nightclub stigmatics, a priest with a dirty secret, a femme fatale, and the Voice of God. Somebody has murdered the angel Gabriel. Worse, the Jericho Trumpet has gone missing, putting Heaven on the brink of a truly cosmic crisis. But the twisty plot that unfolds from the murder investigation leads to something much bigger: a con job one billion years in the making. Because this is no mere murder. A small band of angels has decided to break out of heaven, but they need a human patsy to make their plan work. Much of the story is told from the point of view of Bayliss, a cynical fallen angel who has modeled himself on Philip Marlowe. The yarn he spins follows the progression of a Marlowe novel—the mysterious dame who needs his help, getting grilled by the bulls, finding a stiff, getting slipped a mickey. Angels and gunsels, dames with eyes like fire, and a grand maguffin, Something More Than Night is a murder mystery for the cosmos.
The worldbuilding was probably the most fascinating aspect of this novel. Although the setting is quite similar to Thomas Aquinas' version of Heaven, Tregillis offers his own take on the cosmology with particular angel politicking, the creation of the universe, and the very nature of existence. In addition, being a physicist, the author rooted most of the concepts he introduces throughout the book in science. Hence, the cosmology of Something More Than Night and all that it encompasses remains grounded in the laws of physics that govern Tregillis' universe. I enjoyed many of the themes and ideas, especially the Mantle of Ontological Consistency, which is at the heart of what mankind perceives as a reality. I also liked the near future environment in which the aftermath of a space war has important consequences, and in which global warming and pollution are gradually killing the planet.
Unfortunately, the characterization leaves a little to be desired. The entire tale is told from two different points of view; that of Bayliss, a low-level down-on-his-luck angel, and that of Molly, a young woman brought back from death to become a new angel in an attempt to plug the hole left by angel Gabriel's murder. When Tregillis decided that parts of the dialogue would embrace noir tropes, he read a number of classic noir authors such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. That done, he tried to extract as much of that noir vocabulary and terminology as he could. In the end, Tregillis managed to assemble a slang glossary of about 80 pages. As he did with The Milkweed Triptych, such research allowed the author to truly capture the style and the nuances of those noir tropes. Trouble is, Bayliss' first person narrative, at least in the early parts of the novel, often make him feel like a caricature and it takes quite some time for the reader to warm up to this protagonist. Molly's third person POV, as the poor girl tries to deal with the fact that she is now an angel, is much easier to follow and relate to. I felt that these two disparate narratives sort of clash at times. Moreover, the juxtaposition of the two fail to create any kind of balance, which often makes for an uneven reading experience.
The absence of balance also influences the pace of the novel. Sometimes, Something More Than Night can be a real page-turner. On the other hand, at times the rhythm slows down to a crawl and the book becomes a bit of a chore to read. In retrospect, this work appears to be all or nothing. In some portions of the novel, it's simply brilliant. In others, you find yourself debating whether to go on or not.
The final twist, though unanticipated, also feels a bit weird. Indeed, though it shines some light on many of the underlying themes explored in Something More Than Night, the ending leaves readers wondering what the heck just happened.
I have a feeling that Ian Tregillis' latest novel will be somewhat divisive. Some will love everything about it, while others will absolutely hate it.