Review of Fractal Prince – Book 2 of The Quantum Thief series by Hannu Rajaniemi


On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrődinger box. He is doing the job for his patron, and the owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not. The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack. The thief is nearly dead, being is being eaten alive. Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him. And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

fractalprinceAnd that is the blurb for the follow up to Rajaniemi’s award-winning novel, The Quantum Thief which I whipped off the shelves when it caught my eye – would I enjoy this hard science fiction adventure? Rajaniemi is a Finnish writer with a PhD in String Theory – and his scientific knowledge permeates the world building in this remarkable book.

The thief’s viewpoint is in first person, while Mieli and the adventures of disgraced sister, Tawaddud, the other two protagonists, are told in third person viewpoint. While the thief struggles to open the box, Tawaddud is striving to assist her father in his political manoeuvring by entertaining influential individuals and then roaming the poorer parts of the city and helping those infected with the wildcode. The characters are reasonably successful, although I found I empathised more with Tawaddud and Mieli than Jean, whose enigmatic, tricky persona made him less easy to know and care about.

The other layer of structure running through the book is that much of the narrative is told in the form of stories in the same style as Scheherazade’s tales of a thousand and one nights. I know – it sounds bonkers. And yet, for me, this aspect was one of the main successes of the book. Rajaniemi isn’t a believer in spending time on explaining his world or how it works to the reader – the gismos and terms describing aspects of his world, such as Sobernost, zoku, mutalibun all have to be gleaned through the context of the prose. I would have been cravenly grateful for a glossary, especially in the early stages of the book, given I haven’t read The Quantum Thief. But in the stories – which partly advance the plot and partly highlight the recurring themes of betrayal and revenge, loyalty and power which weave through the book – there is some background and explanation, particularly about Tawaddud and Mieli.

That Rajaniemi is an original writer, pushing the boundaries of science fiction and how narrative works is undisputed. Once I managed to grasp more or less what was going on, I found this an enjoyable read filled with entertaining concepts and underpinned by a story with plenty of tension. However, I do feel Rajaniemi could have, at times, thrown a few more lifelines to his readers that needn’t have compromised his narrative and would have enhanced the reading experience – the longed-for glossary, for example. That said, I recommend you seek him out – but do yourselves a favour, don’t start with Fractal Prince, track down The Quantum Thief. My bad habit picking up a mid-series book as my starting point certainly didn’t help in this case.

11 responses »

  1. I live in Finland and have no clue about the current Finnish spec fic. Well, I don’t read scifi since I escaped into the medieval fantasy world and got enthralled with the wonders there, but I noted this one to check it out later. In case I start reading scifi again.

    • Hi Leona, Thank you for taking the time to comment:)). I think it’s definitely worth the bother – though do start with ‘The Quantum Thief’ if you decide to revisit science fiction. Which medieval fantasy do you like? And have you strayed into the urban fantasy playground at all?

      • I am not a big fan of urban fantasy, unless it’s something exceptional. I love the series like A Song of Ice and Fire, The Riftwar Saga, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms series of R.A. Salvatore, just recently discovered Patrick Rothfuss and Mark Lawrence, and R. Scott Bakker (no need to mention the fathr of all fantasy the great Tolkien.) I am leaning more and more towards the grimdark subgenre these days, blame it on George Martin and R. Scott Bakker. But anythng medieval is my thing. I added the whole series of The QuantumThief on Goodreads, since the author has a ph.d on String Theory it has to be really good scifi.

  2. They are all great authors – if that’s your thing – can I put in a plea for 3 other really good authors in the same sub-genre – and an extra science fiction contender? I’ve just discovered Daniel Polansky and his Low Town series, which is very entertaining and if you like grim – then Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy will tick that box, particularly if you continue with the further series set in the same world and finally, Miles Cameron is certainly worth checking out with his Red Knight. He actually has taken part in jousting competitions – and it shows in the excellent battle scenes he writes. And if you’re interested in mixing science fiction with lawlessness – then Jaine Fenn’s superb Hidden Empire series is also well worth reading.

    And if I’ve namechecked authors you already know and love, apologies for trying to teach you to suck eggs:)

    • You’re very welcome. If you are interested in that end of science fiction, have you also encountered The Orthogonal series by Greg Egan? I very highly recommend it – he’s actually created an alternative universe by inverting a mathematical symbol… And the aliens are wonderfully inventive.

  3. Ahaha, as Finn, this review caught my eye. I haven’t read Rajaniemi before and I tend to avoid Finnish literature in general, however I might just read this because I think there are few other (if none) Finnish scifi authors. When you read this, did you feel like there could have been more adrenaline/action and did you have a feeling that author could have explained more of some plot turns?

    Oh and if you want to read more Finnish literature at some point, you must read The Egyptian by Mika Waltari 🙂 only Finnish book I really adore.

    • It isn’t an easy read, that’s for sure. My strong recommendation is to start with The Quantum Thief. Yes… it was a tad slow to get going and yes, it was a bit of a brain bulger. But the world was so exotically unusual, it was definitely worth it. But I have to say – if your taste doesn’t run to hard science fiction, then give it a miss.

      Many thanks for the recommendation – I’ll look out for it. I don’t extend my reading matter sufficiently outside English and American authors, so this is really useful.

      • Aaa I see, thank you! No I am definitely into scifi, however I often that Finnish authors often have similar “errors” in their stories. They are slow and I feel like the plot is never completely dealt with. Haha, well English and American do write most books

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