The Light Ages

The Light Ages  - Ian R. MacLeod (I got this book from NetGalley, in exchange for a honest review.)

There's quite interesting world-building here, and I really liked discovering what the author developed in "The Light Ages". An England dominated by Guilds, owing their rank and power thanks to the mysterious aether and how it made spells and progress possible. "Changelings", people affected by aether to such an extent that they start developing odd features and end up locked in asylums, or being experimented upon. The very Victorian contrasts of classes, of haves and have nots, of high-standing in society and extreme poverty. The prose describing all those aspects was also often beautiful, and reminiscent of past writins.

Some parts of the book had definite echoes of Great Expectations, yet with a much bleaker take on it, and as such, I felt that no matter what, the ending would be a bittersweet one. Contrary to it's title, it's the kind of story where hopes, as noble as they are, just seem doomed to be squashed; and even when dreams are actually fulfilled, it's always with a tinge of sadness, and sacrifices to be made. I'd recommend it to people who don't mind their steampunk to be of the grittier kind.

What I liked less were the characters themselves. I found the narrator too passive to my liking, letting himself be carried away by events, and it's not before way into said events that he finally starts to take things into his hands... somehow. The same problem happened with other characters: significant happenings tended to be drowned between long introspective passages, people weren't so well defined, and as a result, getting attached to anyone else in the story was hard. The world was more interesting to me than the people evolving in it, and this prevented me from enjoying the book as much as I wanted.