Marcin Wrona has released a new book. A Century of Swollen Clouds is as good as his other titles, which is saying something. This guy is definitely one of my favorite authors.
The title and cover seem appallingly literary, but the story itself is crammed full of action, hairs-breadth escapes, grim vengeance, high adventure, gunfire and flying ships. It's fun and awesome in an almost comic-book style, with endless action and fantastic elements.
And yet it's much more than a crowd-pleasing adventure story. As usual the prose is excellent, evocative, occasionally poetically beautiful, and occasionally hilarious. The story itself is remarkably original, especially in terms of setting. Wrona has a talent for sidestepping cliches and digging deeper. Where most fantasy authors go to Medieval Europe for a starting point, he's gone east, taking his inspiration from Indian Buddhism.
Culturally, the world is richly detailed and feels utterly authentic. This isn't another Tolkien knock-off with kings and queens and knights and peasants. It's a richly detailed world with complicated people, clashing cultures, bigots and mystics, history and traditions.
In physical terms it's a brilliantly original concept. Certain forces have used magic to cover much of the world in storm clouds for a hundred years. Humanity survives on mountaintops that stick above the clouds, and uses magically-propelled airships to travel. Every part of this odd new world seems to have been thought out in great detail. It all makes sense, it works, and it's fascinating to read about.
The characters show similar depth. The protagonist is a girl in her late teens, raised in a wealthy household, surrounded by privilege but without any power of her own. As she discovers the world we see her gradually letting go of her preconceptions. She moves through a rich tapestry of complex personalities. There are heroes and villains and people who are somewhere in between, struggling to find their path.
It's a coming-of-age story, and a story of exploration, and a tale of high adventure. It also explores issues like colonialism, prejudice, the abuse of power, gender stereotypes, and the nature of responsibility.
I highly recommend A Century of Swollen Clouds.