Genre can be the bane of the author’s life: most publishers insist on slotting fiction into predefined pigeonholes. But some books defy this process, either merging genres or crossing boundaries. Emanation is such a book.
It is, essentially a science fiction book, but reads, certainly in the beginning, like a fantasy novel. It’s a merger of both genres, but is also deeper than that limiting definition. The book is about many things; myth, the propensity of people to make misunderstood history into religion, betrayal, envy, and gender politics, to name just a few.
It’s a complex story told through the adventures of three apparently unconnected protagonists, all of whom experience different aspects of their unusual world. The world itself is an effective character in the narrative: a tidally locked planet of a red dwarf star. The author has used a combination of imagination and well-researched science to develop an understanding of life on such a sphere, and conveys it well to the reader.
All the characters are flawed human beings, with a couple of invented beasts along for company. The problems and barriers placed before these characters are both familiar and strange because of the peculiarities of the world they inhabit. Imagine living on a world where one hemisphere is perpetually bathed in sunlight and the other is permanently dark; only the narrow band between these extremes is habitable and even that is subject to extremes of weather caused by the contrast between the bordering halves.
We follow the lives of a young woman who has skills and abilities unknown to her until they’re revealed during a life or death fight, a young man with abilities that only surface once he’s challenged by a shipwreck, and another young woman who escapes capture only through disobedience. The adventures of these three, along with those they interact with, form the story and build a picture of this fascinating world.
There are author’s notes, a description of the location, and a prologue before the real story starts. Whilst it’s tempting to dive right into the book, I’d recommend you read these sections first. They are, in any case, very interesting. There’s also an appendix, which details the way time is measured on this planet without days, weeks, months or even identifiable years. I suggest you read this, too: you’ll more readily appreciate the passage of time. In the Kindle version, it’s at the back of the book.
Settings are well described without interfering with the story. And they’re diverse enough to give the tale plausibility, so important in this type of fiction.
I tend not to summarise books I review: that’s already done in the blurb and there’s no point reiterating it. My concern lies in readability, pace, and the craft involved in the unfolding of the story. I’m also passionate about engagement with characters. In Emanation, Drew Wagar makes the story work particularly well. There’s enough mystery, variety of pace and incident, and descriptive narrative to satisfy the most demanding reader. The characters are well drawn and engaging, and quickly immerse the reader in their worlds in ways that encourage empathy and a desire to know how things turn out for them.
I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the second in the series.
[A review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent anything other than a subjective view. The best we can provide is an honest reaction to any given book.]