BooksScifi

This Great Hemisphere: A Novel by Mateo Askaripour (book review)

Sweetmint has followed the rules of the Northwestern Hemisphere all her life. As a young invisible woman there are many rules. The dominant population, the visible, the DPs, keep track of the invisible population with collars and paint and poverty. Her obedience has now paid off. After years of effort, Sweetmint has achieved an unheard of honour for an invisible, an apprenticeship with the Hemisphere’s foremost inventor and genius. All of her work might be for nothing when the Chief Executive of the Hemisphere is murdered and her long, lost brother is the prime suspect. Sweetmint must find the beloved brother she hasn’t seen in decades while the manhunt for him upends the invisible community and the election for first new ruler in decades comes to a violent head.

Going into this novel, This Great Hemisphere’, it is very clear that there are going to be some parallels with the modern world and the fictional one with one physically distinct group of humans being subjugated by another. This is highlighted and underlined by the prologue being set in the extreme near future of 2028, 500 years before the rest of the story. While I do think speculative fiction can be used to make the reader think about their own reality and see it anew I’m not generally a fan of ‘moral forward’ novels where the moral lesson is put before the story. Books that shout ‘Hey look! A moral!’ so loudly everything else is forced to be quieter. This is a case with Mateo Askaripour’s ‘This Great Hemisphere’ where the world-building is great, giving fabulous glimpses into an ecologically ravaged world with a Stalin-like government. The struggle of the invisibles as almost-but-not-quite slaves is definitely the focus but, as in Stalin’s Russia, everyone is afraid. Invisibles definitely have the worst by far but the few visible characters are living in almost constant fear.

I had to take a break from this novel midway through as it got so bleak. There was just chapter after chapter of reasons why the world is bad. One scene in the house of parliament seems to serve no purpose but to really hit the reader over the head with the violent, sexualised anger the visible ruling class have over the invisibles. A point that is made many times already. This instance is actually written in the rules of how parliament does things so that makes it somewhat different. But not really.

The revolution plots and the life story get sidelined for a relentless cascade of bad things and bad choices. By the time the big reveal turned up, I just didn’t care. I’d almost forgotten that the story had begun with a murder so I didn’t really mind who had done it.

Every writer has to focus in on the story they want to share in the giant world they’ve created. Askaripour wants to share a big story, I just wish they had chosen to share it through Sweetmint.

If this is going to be a trilogy (it does have that feel), I would only read more if everything got thrown together and came out a bit more balanced.

‘This Great Hemisphere’ theoretically follows Candace/Sweetmint’s story as she tries to find her brother, but it trails away on side quests to build the world.

‘This Great Hemisphere’ is not a light read or a book to binge on. Well-written but oh so bleak to the point of gratuitousness. If you enjoyed Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Power’ or Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ this might be the new release for you. It wasn’t for me but I will keep an eye out for future work by the author.

LK Richardson

July 2024

(pub: Dutton/Penguin, 2024. 432 page hardback. Price: $29.00 (US), £25.99 (UK), ISBN: 978-0-59347-234-7

check out website: www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/713716/this-great-hemisphere-by-mateo-askaripour/9780593472347/

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