The Half-Made World is the first of Felix Gilman’s work I’ve had the pleasure to read, though to be fair, it is only his third, Thunderer and Gears of the City being his others. From this single experience though I can safely say that Gilman is one talented writer with plenty of story to tell. This first part in a steampunk-esque/weird West duology is as delightful a display of originality, strong prose and solid characters as you are ever likely to encounter.
The world is still only half-made. Between the wild shores of uncreation and the ancient lands of the east lies the vast expanse of the West - young, chaotic, magnificent, war-torn.
Thirty years ago, the Red Republic fought to remake the West - fought gloriously and failed. The world that now exists has been carved between two rival factions: the Line, enslaving the world with industry, and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence. The Republic is now history, and the last of its generals sits forgotten and nameless in a madhouse on the edge of creation. But locked in his memories is a secret that could change the West forever, and the world’s warring powers would do anything to take it from him.
Now Liv Alverhuysen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels west, hoping to heal the general’s shattered mind. John Creedmoor, reluctant Agent of the Gun and would-be gentleman of leisure, travels west, too, looking to steal the secret or die trying. And the servants of the Line are on the march.
It’s great, for once, to be able to say that a novel is genuinely forging ahead in terms of furthering the genre - it is not something the happens often. The Half-Man World is such a novel. Just the title gives a pretty good example of the path down which it heads; a half-made world? Demons the live in Guns? In Engines? These aren’t things that one commonly stumbles upon, even inside of the fantasy genre.
But as much as Gilman can be praised for his more out of the way ideas, the strength of his world-building - of his story even - lies in the way he mixes and blends elements of other things together. Yes you have your interfering higher-powers but they survive within physical objects and the minds of their servants; there is what can loosely be coined as magic but none of the characters have any true understanding of how It works; etc. Gilman also blends in a sense of familiarity by very deliberately building ‘his’ West in a way that is very reminiscent of ‘our’ West in tone and atmosphere as well as often making hinted references to other elements of late 19th century America.
And while this world might appear a bit hard to compete with, The Half-Made World’s characters easily steal as much of the spotlight as it does. The story revolves around three main characters, those being the rebellious outlaw, Creedmoor, the unprepared doctor, Liv, and their mutual opponent, the devout, unimaginative servant of the Line, Lowry. The first of these is possibly the most striking and engaging, being the one most often tempted to go against the grain, while being the one to go with it the most often - wanting to rebel against the nature of his existence but ultimately never making it. Interestingly, Lowry is the character that most contrasts with the rest Gilman’s book being fundamentally more black and white than the others and seemingly archetypal.
With such strong elements, The Half-Made World is a novel that whisks along at a brisk pace with almost never a breath to spare. The excitement is continuous, in the first half interest for the three-way race to reach the General sustaining it and in the second fueled the sheer joy at reveling in the compelling and detailed world that Gilman exposes as the plot takes the reader further into undiscovered territories. The plot wraps in a satisfying amount of action and adventure but also a good deal of mystery that leads neatly into the next book.
Thankfully, The Half-Made World takes the time to wrap up what it has unleashed in terms of plot and characters for this first book, while allowing for this breathtaking tale to be at a stage where it is well-prepared to move on into the next volume - a welcomed aspect in a time and age when cliffhangers are so over-used. Here Gilman has no need to leave the reader hopelessly hanging, (though in a minor sort of way, he does) relying instead on the strength of his work to keep readers coming back, and I for one will be there. Felix Gilman’s book is one I highly recommend, especially for those in search of a novel that pushes things that bit further or those in need of an all-new wild yet arresting adventure. Roll on the second, and final, novel in this duology...
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Felix Gilman's Website: http://www.felixgilman.com/
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