The Glorious Angels
Genre- bending, gender- busting
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