Review of Down To The Bone – Book 5 of The Quantum Gravity series by Justina Robson

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This is the concluding volume to Robson’s interestingly original take on a world peopled by demons, elves and fae, after the quantum bomb detonated in 2015 tore through the fabric keeping different worlds apart. Earth is now Otopia and humankind are having to rub shoulders with the likes of elves and demons.

downtotheboneWhatever you do, though, don’t pick Down To the Bone off the shelf and expect to get engrossed in the story without first reading at least the first in the series, Keeping It Real – and even then I think you would be significantly short-changing yourself if you didn’t continue with the series. The cool cover and arresting strap line, I think, sells these books short. Neither pure erotic urban fantasy escapism, nor cyber-punk dystopian adventure bulging with gismos, the Quantum Gravity series borrows tropes from both camps. There’s a fair bit of serious science fiction embedded within this apparently classical fantasy world, and Robson’s main character, Lila, has a very familiar feel if you are a sucker for urban fantasy – complete with some steamy sex.  So, has Robson succeeded in satisfactorily concluding this ambitious, genre-melding series?

The gap between the worlds was so thin in places, you could nearly step across without meaning to… Lila Black can still turn into a lethal war-winning machine with the merest thought but she doesn’t work for the agency any more. Problem is, she has no idea what to do next. Teazle is a demon who may have become Death’s Angel. And Zal is a has-been elven musician without a band. They don’t add up to much that when they get together major stuff goes down. And now the dead are walking, the veil between the worlds is tearing and if it fails altogether all bets are off. Someone has to do something and it looks like it’s going to have to be Lila. Is attitude enough to get you through life and death? Will it get you a happy ending?

As with most series, the tone in this last book is a whole lot darker than it was in Keeping It Real, but there is still plenty of humour – I particularly enjoyed the fairy who spent her time arbitrarily fashioning herself into Lila’s clothing. Robson manages to create sufficient vulnerability for her main protagonists despite their staggering powers to evoke the necessary narrative tension and it is in the final instalment that we get a full, final slice of exactly what she has been aiming for throughout the series.

Has she succeeded in bridging the gulf between cyber-punk and classical fantasy with her own particular mix of both? Absolutely. Her nods to fanfic, gaming allusions and hardcore science fiction exposition tick all the boxes in that genre set, while her characterisation of all her main protagonists, particularly Lila as the can-do, conflicted heroine, provides the emotional engine driving the plot forward that is often missing in hard-core science fiction stories. The whole series has been such a roller-coaster, epic ride that this final volume needed to provide Robson’s unique brand of angst-filled action in quantum quantities to provide the necessary, satisfying conclusion. And as far as I’m concerned, she succeeds in fulfilling that requirement, too.

Any niggles? Not sure if it’s actually a flaw, or a necessary by-product of Robson’s ambitious writing, but her style is very dense. This is not a skim-read, brain-snooze book – you need those little grey cells standing to attention to fully appreciate Robson’s world-building and crafting. During the action scenes, Robson’s pacing is perfect but at times during the character interactions, I found I needed to slow down and reread sections, or I missed something crucial. I noticed this when reading the last two books and I’ve come to the conclusion that as I generally zip through an urban fantasy far faster than a hard science fiction read, it was my expectations pressing the ‘go’ button, when I needed to ease up. Rereading this series from start to finish would be a satisfying treat – and something I don’t often consider. But then, encountering a series like the Quantum Gravity isn’t an everyday reading experience, either. Give it a go – love it or loath it, I guarantee you won’t have come across anything else quite like it.
9/10

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