The first book in this series, the Interminables, was on the top of my best of 2016 list. The deeply flawed, nuanced, and grounded characters interacted in a very complex world. Orwin struck a good balance between explaining the magic so it is believable but not overexplaining until it felt pedestrian. The plot was unpredictable and moving but the heart of the book was in the pathos – these were characters who lived, breathed, and felt emotions; they were equally strong while making terrible mistakes or in the highs of triumph. This second novel contains the same beating heart but greatly expands on the world and worlduilding. I’m not sure if this series is a duology or if there is more planned but we have a complete story arc with a very satisfying ending.
Story: In a modern East Coast US disrupted by magical events, Edmund the time thief and his companion Istvan, the ghostly embodiment of world war I, are trying to find normalcy after the Barrio Libertad debacle. When asked to help allies of the 12th hour determine the cause of a sentient storm in the prairie states, what Edmund and Istvan find at the eye of the storm is a teen who exhibits all the same characteristics as Grace Wu – a conduit for natural energy. But he is also one of the shattered and therefore dangerous. Unsure what to do with the boy or even how to safely maintain him, matters will be further complicated when the boy reveals that the destroyer of cities Anoushak may be able to be revived – and Edmund is not sure if he is terrified or excited at the prospect.
The world was greatly expanded with this new novel. We’re introduced to the mages of the middle states – Oklahoma area. We’re also given far more about the Triskelion – Lucy’s people from a very martial soldier society who come from a different dimension. A dimension that has more like Istvan and who are treated in a very different fashion – a fashion that elevates them to godhood.
Also becoming a main character is Kyra – the teen rescued by Istvan and Edmund. How Kyra is treated will become a contention between Edmund and Istvan as well as The 12th Hour and Barrio Libertad. Because Kyra is a conduit, we’ll see much more of Grace Wu and her interferences will cause further problems for our main characters.
I’ve mentioned how good the character writing is here and I can’t state strongly enough that this is superb writing. Each of the characters doubt themselves, make stupid mistakes, live on regrets and desires, and act according to their own needs. There are no overidealized good or bad guys here – there is no good and evil. Each tries to do what they think is best and often there are heavy repercussions or unforeseeable bonuses in doing so. The Interminables world does have a heavy atmosphere and themes of regret and reflection are often repeated. As well, each of the characters is very much a product of their environment – and since several are from a very different time (or even world), their perspectives clash interestingly. Grace Wu is driven and direct, Mercedes is calculating and sarcastic, Edmund is self doubting and mired in regret, Istvan is trying to find his place in the world and still holding on to 1915 values, Lucy is hyperfocused and idealistic, and Kyra is trying desperately to look strong and hide his fragility.
Immortal Architects was not a perfect novel for me. I did not understand the focus on racism here at all, especially considering there were creatures operating just fine like William Blake, the Tyger. The gender fluidity of Kyra was also curious in a story that already had a male ghost in an unrequited attraction to a clearly hetero male wizard (ah Edmund and his Grace Wu obsession). Both those topics were brought up enough to feel almost like an author’s agenda rather than a natural and organic part of the world building. Neither of those topics were evident in the first novel, either, so they stood out more. One of the most appealing parts of the first book for me was Istvan and Edmund’s complicated relationship; I didn’t feel adding racism or gender fluidity added to the story, though the gender fluidity made much more sense considering that character’s history.
But I greatly enjoyed Immortal Architects. The story never goes where I think it will and the characters never act predictably. The nuances are sharp enough to be cutting but each of the characters are very likable in all their faults and foibles. Because the story ended so solidly, I am unsure if there will be more in the series. But if there is, I’ll be first in line to get a copy. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by a publisher.