Ian Tregillis’ follow-up to his amazing genre-bending Milkweed Triptych is Something More Than Night (2013) –more evidence, if any were needed, that Tregillis is one of fantasy and science fiction’s most exciting new voices. It’s a remarkable mash-up of science, religion, noir, and humor, and while I didn’t find it as compulsively readable as the Milkweed books, I definitely came away impressed by its challenging and inventive narrative.
Bayliss is the angel with his finger on the pulse of the mortal realm; he’s also immersed himself thoroughly in the persona of a 1940s PI in a noir detective novel. In short, he’s one strange character. When the angel Gabriel is murdered in a shocking heavenly mystery, it’s up to Bayliss to recruit a replacement. Enter Molly, a shrewd young woman maneuvered into the role by Bayliss’ reality-bending. Molly’s rocky transition to the afterlife is complicated by Bayliss’ less-than-helpful guidance, but eventually – clinging stubbornly to every last vestige of her humanity – she adjusts to her situation, and sets to solving the mystery of Gabriel’s murder.
Something More Than Night is a triumph of inventive language and complex world-building. Like the Milkweed books, there’s something of a kitchen sink feel to the genre influences. The structure is pulp fiction mystery, but the setting is a restless blend of near-term futurism and religious science fantasy. This makes for a distinct and highly unusual tone to the book, which is only intensified by the playful narrative style. I can’t say I found this book easy reading; Bayliss’ chapters in particular, with their fusion of heavy noir slang, religious lore, and high physics, require a certain effort to decipher. There’s a lot of translating to be done, wrestling the plot from this affected language – which reminded me a little of Hannu Rajaniemi or Charles Stross in its wild, dense creativity. But, like those two at their best, a satisfying plot ultimately resolves from the detail. It’s a tough read, then, but a rewarding one that left me anxious to see where the author goes next.