(2015) E. J. Swift, Del Rey, £8.99, pbk, 419pp, ISBN 978-0-091-95310-2
The third part of the Osris Project, Tamaruq takes up the story of Adelaide Rechnov and her struggle to end the isolation of Osiris from the rest of the world. In Tamaruq, we are introduced to new geopolitics of Swift’s dystopian world.
The blurb really does not do the book justice. Whilst the endorsement from Adam Roberts is impressive, the description of the story is generic and hints at none of its strengths or layers. Hopefully the discerning reader will look past this and find the more interesting story inside.
Writing in third person present is something of a switch to get used to and initially some of the viewpoints are not as anchored as they might be, giving the writing a loose quality in the opening scenes. However, this settles down for the most part, only straying in tense scenes where several of the main characters interact. This dislocates the reader a little bit and distracts from the ongoing narrative.
There is a definite sense of this book being a continuation and there are elements that rely on the previous instalments, but Rechnov’s story in Tamaruq is quite complete, despite it being a third part. Her previous situation, being presumed dead at the end of the last book means she is at rock bottom and where she goes from here to the end of the book does work as a self-contained arc. For those joining the story at this stage, it also intrigues you to find out what went on before.
The stories of the other principle characters are less contained, but they are resolved and Swift’s cast certainly speaks with different voices. The enigmatic Alaskan is a particularly interesting construction, wielding power over many of the emerging individuals in the story for a variety of mysterious reasons. There is a rugged threat about her that belies her weakening and unwieldy physical condition, making her a strong and memorable force long after the story is done.
The de-familiarised world Swift has hinted at in these three books opens out. Place and people names are familiar but different; Boreals, Patagonians, Antarticans, these all point to the substantive changes that have taken place on Earth. The reasons for Osiris existence and its withdrawal from the world are revealed, the duplicity of its leaders in hiding it but preaching of the opposite are also shown. The incurable and mutating disease trope is one much used in dystopian futures, but in the Osiris project books, there is much more of a progressive feel to this depiction and less of a flash fire approach. Fans of The Afterblight Chronicles may see a parallel, but the gradual nature of Redfleur makes it more real to the reader and freshens the premise. We get a sense of gathering loss as more and more sacrifices are made and more and more knowledge is vanishes as individuals succumb to illness and guilt.
Fragmented continuations from the other books provide some of the most powerful scenes. The slavery smuggling and laboratory experiment circumstances are told with the need for a considerable amount of back-story fill, but in the space of a dozen pages, a difficult science versus ethics question is posed and the consequences of either choice are revealed. Whilst this shifts the focus to some of the supporting cast and requires a lot of ‘tell’, it successfully makes the reader consider their own response in the circumstances and reveals the contrivance and ramifications of the binary. What does a liberator do aboard ship when they locate prisoners, but haven’t the resources to overpower the captors? The moral dilemma here is multi-layered and beautifully explored, making the character of Ramona.
The expansion of locations from previous instalments does pose something of a problem in terms of timing and travel. However, this is generally handled well with some plot compression and contrivance. The latter only becomes a little distracting when characters are ‘found’ and meetings occur at fortuitous moments for the plot, although the strength of the writing generally carries this.
However, there is a need to link up the story threads towards the conclusion and as the stories converge, the artifice becomes more obvious, particularly as the timings of the negotiations on Osiris and actions related to them are have been measured out to fit the arrival of the other characters. If there had been less build towards crisis in the council and the other stories had brought more crisis with them, this might have played out in a slightly more convincing manner, but as it stands, the reader is a little too aware of the weaving.
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