Fiction Reviews


(2023) Ian McDonald, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, 648pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20229-0


Hopeland is the new, vast, fantasy-tinged epic from prolific Northern Ireland author Ian McDonald. He’s the author of, amongst other things, the excellent 'Luna' trilogy and the award winning novels Brasyl, The Dervish House and River of Gods, McDonald’s novels are always meticulously researched, set in interestingly exotic locations and firmly character focused, and Hopeland is no exception. And, like the others, the narrative sprawls and is sometimes difficult to pin down, which makes for an intense, immersive but sometimes frustrating read. You’ll fall in love with these characters at the end though, guaranteed.

Set in the near future, climate change issues permeate this narrative, but at the core is a compellingly dangerous relationship between Amon Brightbourne, the mildly eccentric heir to a dynastic family of wanderers and musicians, and Raisa Hopeland, a member of the sprawling, planet-wide extended family of Kynnd, who share values, lifestyles and mutual support if not blood. The relationship is dangerous because Amon, as first born, is cursed with The Grace, which means his luck will never run out – but at a Price (to others). So they meet, fall in love, but must part. Amon can’t hang around in the family home either, so finds himself in Polynesia, where climate change and ineffective rulers have brought crisis to a small island kingdom.

Before that, though, there’s a chance meeting between Raisa, on a mission to race her great rival Finn across London to a Tesla coil hidden in an old church, one of four scattered across the city that linked by the right hands – Raisa’s hands - can wield great energy, as well as protect the city from demons. The winner becomes the Electromancer. Her sometime lover Finn’s the more skilled, but she’s the more determined, and with Amon’s good luck guiding her and helping her on her mad rooftop dash, the contest is fast moving, evenly matched and, er, electric.

Raisa and Amon become romantically linked, but because of Amons’s Gift and the Price it exacts, Raisa has to leave, ending up in Iceland, embraced by her extended Kynnd family, where she first sets out to transform their market produce agriculture business and then moves on to exploit the vast energy resource that they’ve barely tapped to drive it. Powered by ice melt and volcanoes, Raisa becomes head of an energy super-company. Climate change means Iceland – and Greenland – are opening up, but further south the effects are less benign. When rising sea levels, diminishing supplies of fresh water and a corrupt king who sells of the islands’ fishing rights conspire to mean the whole population of the island kingdom of Ava’u must take to the seas to find a new home, the link between Amon, with Islanders, and Raisa becomes critical.

There’s more, much more, in this rich and expansive novel. It’s a very long 637 pages and it’s not a book to be skimmed. The themes – climate, family – bind it tighter than plot, which sometimes feels vague and meandering, and the fantasy elements (though plot-crucial at points) add an off-balancing weirdness that’s endearing but don’t add much of substance. I do like the idea of a thousand year piece of music, though, meticulously planned to reach a crescendo, far into the future.

You’ll need to set aside some time to read this (over) long novel, and I wish the publishers had put it out as two (or three) shorter volumes, but if you persevere, it’s worth it.  Love the characters.  Love the ideas.  Love the sentiment.  Recommended.

Mark Bilsborough


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 24.1.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]