Unity by Elly Bangs (book review).
Unity is a bold and impressive debut novel from author Elly Bangs. The premise and the plot are made out of big ideas spread over a landscape scarred with the detritus of innumerable lifetimes.
War is coming to Bloom City, an underwater ‘aquapolis,’ and three people are looking to get out before it happens. Danae wants to return home to reunite with her other selves. Her lover, Naoto, will not leave her side. But, Alexei, the mercenary they hire to help them escape, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. That would be because he really doesn’t care whether he dies in the attempt.
They do manage to escape disaster. As in all great adventure novels, however, this is merely the start of their journey.
The world portrayed in Unity is more than a post-apocalyptic dystopia. It’s a vision of Earth battered and scarred by multiple disasters, the latest of which looms over the horizon as a deadly gray cloud. Danae might be able to stop this latest threat if she can get home before it’s unleashed. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s saved the world. But the conflict she has left behind is following her, and so is a mysterious stalker from her past.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the concept of unity. While I grasped early on that Danae was the current, chosen body of a group consciousness, sorting out who was who and how it all worked did take a little work – work I didn’t at all mind. I enjoy being thrown in at the deep end and learning a world as I go.
Bangs’ descriptions of how Danae connects and communicates with others were some of my favourite parts of the novel—especially the conversation she has with herself toward the end. The very important conversation and the revelation that comes along with it. Deeply thoughtful and worth the read just for that. What I did find as I swam up from the deep end, however, was that a heck of a lot of this story happens before the novel begins.
Backstory is important an important facet of any character, but when it threatens to bury the current plot, or drives it too directly, I often end up feeling as though a book has started in the wrong place. For as much as I enjoyed Unity as a novel, and I did, I found myself wishing we’d been able to start at the beginning, when Danae first discovered the concept unity.
This event is covered, but as a recollection – one that pauses the novel at a pivotal point. This choice on the part of the author does work in a way, in that all is revealed in a sequence of memories that flesh out the characters and connect them more securely to each other. But as each backstory unfolded, I found myself wishing that I was experiencing them in real time, as part of the story rather than the explanation for ‘how we ended up here, as this person.’
I felt somewhat as though I was reading the last book of a trilogy without the benefit of having fully experienced what had come before. The characters of Danae and Alexei didn’t grow on the page for me. I had joined them at their lowest point, when they were worn down and exhausted. So completely done. This feeling robbed a little of the joy out of the ending for me.
That being said, I did enjoy the book. I read it all the way to the end because I did want to know how it ended. And when it was all done, I did feel a sense of awe over Elly Bangs’ achievement. It’s a fantastic story and very capably told. I just wish there had been more of it. I’d love to have ridden alongside Danae, Alexei, Naoto, Kat, and even Luther, through the early days of discovery, to have learned their characters as they grew and changed, as their innocence was squashed and hope became buried. That would have been epic.
I look forward to seeing where this author takes us next.
pub: Tachyon Publications, April 13, 2021. 304 pages, paperback and ebook. ISBN: 978-1616963422. Paperback: $16.95 (US) £11.35 (UK). Ebook: $9.49 (US) £5.59 (UK).
checkout websites: https://tachyonpublications.com/ and http://www.elbangs.com/