I feel like I need to disclose this right off the bat: John C. Wright is my favorite author. That may or may not taint my review of his newest novel, Somewither, which may or may not descend into slavish fan boy ravings.
You can probably tell how I feel about this book already, but I’m going to break it down anyways. Somewither tells the tale of one Ilya Muromets, the homeschooled son of a man who does a mysteriously military job for the Vatican. Early on, Ilya receives a text message from his boss, one Professor Dreadful, curator of the local cryptozoology museum, asking him to thwart an invasion and save his daughter. It seems that Professor Dreadful has managed to open a gate into another creation and accidentally prompted an extradimensional invasion orchestrated by the Tower of Babel. Hilarity ensues, and by hilarity, I mean more dismemberment than you can shake a stick at. Ilya, as it turns out, is from another world altogether, and is a type of subhuman that cannot be killed. The cast is comprised largely of people who come from different aeons– what most writers would call alternate universes, ignoring the etymology of universe– each with their own special tricks and abilities. The Tower of Babel is a fearsome force that has leveraged super-precise astrology to conquer dozens of other aeons.
Wright has a knack for making good characters, but as often as not, his settings are just as memorable– if not more. The Dark Tower– Babel– is one of the most convincingly evil empires I’ve seen in a very long time. They speak the Ursprache, the language of Eden, and can thus understand all other languages; their astrology, powered by Babbage machines, is unfailingly and frighteningly accurate. There is a chilling sequence in the first third of the book in which Ilya is captured and tortured in the only way that one can torture an unkillable immortal: killing, wounding, and starving him, inflicting pain upon pain in ways that would kill anyone else. Ilya is trapped in a cell for days with an open hole opening on a 40,000 foot drop to the Earth below; all one has to do is leap out in order to be free from their imprisonment. As one of the Host Who Yearn for Death In Vain, Ilya will survive the fall; but the astrology of the Dark Tower means that they know exactly where his mangled body will land, and after every fall, Ilya wakes up back in his cell. This is the enemy with which Ilya and his enemies must wrestle: a cruel and seemingly undefeatable foe.
Somewither is the first book of a series, and it’s a long’un. It’s hard to tell just how long ebooks are, but I’m guessing that this sucker is close to 700 pages. This means we get a lot of detailed fight scenes, plus the twists and turns that are one of Wright’s selling points. It also, however, means that sometimes passages will drag on longer than one might like. For instance, there’s one diversion examining Ilya’s relationship with Professor Dreadful’s daughter that bogged me down a little bit, coming in the middle of far more manly things, like stoicism in the face of hideous torture and promising to tear down a tower that, near as I can tell, stretches to the moon.
My only other complaint is this: Wright has a very distinctive voice. That’s not a bad thing, but telling the story of a 16 or 17 year old boy in first person means that the boy feels more educated than even the homeschooled son of a special ops warrior-chaplain ought to be. Ilya just seems to know more than he should; he’s schooled in pop culture, scifi, hand to hand combat, and traditional academic pursuits. I get it, but I’m thirty-four years old with three-quarters of an M. Div. and twenty-five years or so of reading primarily science fiction under my belt. If I were critiquing this in a writing group, I’d point Wright to that exemplar of first person narratives, Gene Wolfe, but I’m not. Also, I’m a shmuck with a handful of stories under my belt and a novel that’s six months past its deadline, and Mr. Wright has written, what, twelve novels now?
Somewither a great ride, and probably John C. Wright’s strongest fantasy novel since the Everness books. Highly recommended. 11/10. Would regrow organs again.