Novel: Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

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 it’s not 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, which is only intensified by the playful narrative style. I can’t say I found it 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.

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