Spirit by Gwyneth Jones (book review).

The version of ‘Spirit’ I had for review was the large format paperback and it is a large book. It’s also quite weighty and that’s before you get to the story. Inside the cover on the title page is printed ‘Spirit’ in a large font and’ underneath in a smaller font’ there is an alternative title ‘The Princess Of Bois Dormant’. Having read the book, I’m still undecided which title is more apt.


The blurb on the back of the book describes ‘Spirit’ as a high octane retelling of ‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’ and I can see the similarities. The main difference is that this story is set in the Gwyneth Jones universe populated by humans, Aleutians and other aliens. Apart from the lead being female, ‘Spirit’ does have in common the other main elements. There’s treachery, wrongful imprisonment, escapes, fortunes and revenge.

The book is divided into four parts with each part having a section titled “Intermission”. I’ll come back to them in a minute.

Part 1 opens up with Lady Nef, the wife of General Yu, addressing the child, Bibi, who is the sole survivor of General Yu’s extermination of the rebels. Although she is a young child, Bibi is given a choice of becoming a future concubine of the General or joining Lady Nef’s household as a servant. Bibi makes her decision and what follows could be said to be a direct consequence of that decision. We follow Bibi’s early life up to the point where the General is awarded a diplomatic commission on a remote planet. He will be accompanied by Lady Nef and a selection of their household staff, a selection that includes Bibi and her friend, Honesty.

Part 2 is the diplomatic mission which certainly doesn’t go to plan.

Following these events, Bibi’s life becomes very different for her in Part 3. I suppose you could say that this part is all about Bibi enduring, rebuilding and overcoming what life has thrown at her and where the Princess of Bois Dormant makes her appearance.

Part 4 wraps everything up as some well laid plans come to fruition.

I was very impressed with Aleutians as these aliens are er…alien. They may be bipeds and of human size, but they are very different to humans. In fact, there’s a lot of ideas and concepts in ‘Spirit’ which I thought were very good indeed. The Buonarotti process for interstellar travel is worth mentioning as are the semi-AI limos, although they only make a fleeting appearance. Speaking of aliens, I should also mention the Myots which are bat-like bipeds from Sigurt’s World. Two of their kind, Prince D’’fydd and his retainer Ch’ro play a large role in the last two parts.

If I were to have a criticism of this book, it would be that there is an assumption that the reader has read some or all of the author’s previous works. There’s not an awful lot of filling in on the details of the universe in which the story is set. Here’s an example: there are countless referrals to a planet called ‘the Blue’ and even its habitants are sometimes referred to as ‘Blues’. They are, of course (at least I think they are), talking about Earth. It’s just not stated as such anywhere. Presumably, its covered in one of her other books.

Within each of the four parts of the book there is an ‘Intermission’ section which in the first three parts occurs at the end of the part. In Part 4 it’s in the middle. I’m not quite sure what the author was intending with these intermission sections. There doesn’t seem to be a need to distinguish them from the main chapters. The first intermission describes Bibi’s experience of the Buonarotti transfer to Sigurt’s World which I suppose could be described as background information. However, the second intermission contains events which are central to the following chapters. There doesn’t seem to be a logic to calling them ‘Intermissions’.

At times, the story does seem to meander with not very much happening but it is worth sticking with it as things do pick up. While the nature of the ending was never in doubt, there are a few surprises along the way. I think ‘Spirit’ would be a welcome addition to the collections of those who are already Gwyneth Jones fans. If, like me, you have not read any of her previous ‘Aleutian’ novels, I think you should start with them. You will get far more out of ‘Spirit’ if you are familiar with Gwyneth Jones Aleutian universe.

Andy Whitaker

June 2016

(pub: Gollancz, 2008. 534 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-07473-6)

check out websites : www.orionbooks.co.uk, www.gollancz.com and www.gwynethjones.uk/SPIRIT.htm


I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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