The Glo­ri­ous An­gels

Genre- bend­ing, gen­der- bust­ing

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Re­lease Date: 19 March 512 pages | Pa­per­back/ ebook Au­thor: Justina Rob­son Pub­lisher: Gol­lancz

Justina Rob­son could be de­scribed as chameleonic. Not in the sense that she can lit­er­ally change colour ( although we wouldn’t be sur­prised to find out she could). But in her ca­reer to date, Rob­son has re­peat­edly dodged as­sump­tions about what sort of writer she is – and done so with panache. From the hard SF of Sil­ver Screen ( 1999) and Mappa Mundi ( 2001), through the space opera of Nat­u­ral His­tory ( 2003) and the de­cid­edly weirder Living Next Door To The God Of Love ( 2005), to the five- vol­ume Quan­tum Grav­ity se­ries ( 2006- 2011), Rob­son has never stood still.

The Glo­ri­ous An­gels, her first novel in four years, is an­other show­case for her rest­less imag­i­na­tion. It tap dances along the lines be­tween genre bound­aries, kick­ing up its heels with a giddy, fe­ro­ciously smart in­ven­tive­ness. Does Rob­son’s un­named world run on science, magic, or some mix­ture of both? Who can say? Cer­tainly not the char­ac­ters, all of whom have ideas about how things work, but far from a com­plete un­der­stand­ing.

The city of Glimshard lies over the ru­ins of long- dead civil­i­sa­tions, and un­cov­er­ing the relics of this past is a lu­cra­tive ( and cut- throat) game: while much of the knowl­edge needed to op­er­ate the tech­nol­ogy is long gone, this doesn’t stop ev­ery­one with the means from scrab­bling to get a piece of the pie, on the off- chance they’ll hap­pen across some­thing both use­able and spec­tac­u­lar. Tralane Huntin­gore is an en­gi­neer, and a woman of sim­ple tastes. Ap­peal­ingly blunt and strong- willed, all she wants is to be left alone to tin­ker with the bro­ken rem­nants of an­cient tech passed down through her fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions, and to keep half a baf­fled eye on the an­tics of her chalk- and- cheese teenage daugh­ters. But with Glimshard em­broiled in a war to the south al­legedly caused by the ag­gres­sion of the “barbarian” Ka­roo – but which may in fact be re­lated to an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­pe­di­tion in Ka­roo ter­ri­tory – her ex­per­tise makes her a per­son of in­ter­est to spies, as­sas­sins, and the Im­pe­rial court.

Women sit at the top of the tree in po­lit­i­cal, pro­fes­sional and so­cial life, while men are sex­u­alised, and their sta­tus rests on mak­ing them­selves ap­peal­ing to pow­er­ful women. This re­ver­sal plays out in the nar­ra­tive, too, in sub­tle and clever ways: most key roles are played by women char­ac­ters, with the only prom­i­nent male char­ac­ters be­ing the pro­tag­o­nists’ love ( or rather sex) in­ter­ests, al­beit – if you’ll for­give the pun – well- rounded ones.

But this is un­der­stated, and it’s only a part of the sheer, glo­ri­ous weird­ness of Rob­son’s world­build­ing, which takes in fly­ing cities, eight tele­pathic Em­presses, and shapeshift­ing tiger- dog­parahu­mans who ab­sorb knowl­edge by eat­ing peo­ple. The set­ting is com­plex and lay­ered with­out feel­ing bogged down by de­tail. Ty­ing all this to­gether is a core theme about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man mind and body, some­thing the char­ac­ters’ ex­pe­ri­ences con­tin­u­ally in­ter­ro­gate and com­pli­cate. Rob­son ex­plores links be­tween men­tal and phys­i­cal trauma, and how the Ka­roo’s non- or par­tially- hu­man phys­i­ol­ogy trans­lates to dif­fer­ent pat­terns of thought and so­cial or­gan­i­sa­tion; more broadly, the story piv­ots on par­al­lels be­tween the men­tal ma­nip­u­la­tion of telepa­thy and the chem­i­cal re­ac­tions un­der­ly­ing love and sex. It’s a deeply thought­ful – and thought- pro­vok­ing – thread, which gives weight to a rich tale of in­tri­cate pol­i­tick­ing, fast- paced ac­tion, frank sex­u­al­ity and ex­treme ar­chae­ol­ogy ( yes, re­ally!). Nic Clarke Justina Rob­son hasn’t been slack­ing since her last novel; she also wrote a his­tory of the Trans­form­ers – The Covenant Of Primus.

A show­case for the au­thor’s rest­less imag­i­na­tion. It tap dances along genre bound­aries

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