Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Thunderer by Felix Gilman

I debated whether I wanted or needed to review THUNDERER, Felix Gilman’s debut. I loved it, but did I have much to say about it? Could I contribute to the discussion in any meaningful way?

Ultimately, I decided it didn’t matter. One of my resolutions regarding this new blog is simply to talk about stuff I love, whether or not I say anything conventionally meaningful. The very act of sharing that love will be, has to be, enough.

Which ties into THUNDERER quite nicely, when you think about it.

THUNDERER is sort of about faith, and sort of about the quest for knowledge, and sort of about what happens when you have such awesome worldbuilding that your setting becomes a character. Arjun, disciple of the Voice, arrives in the limitless city of Ararat in search of his vanished god, whom he hopes to find in the city’s deity-saturated streets. His search brings him into contact with Jack, a youth granted fantastic powers by another god, and Holbach, a scientist determined to map ever-shifting Ararat and harness its divine power in the name of progress. Arjun’s association with these two men unleashes a power that lurks in the city’s waterways, sparking a conflagration that could destroy Ararat--or preserve it.

The multitude of glowingly positive blurbs tucked inside the novel’s front cover praise THUNDERER as a Dickensian marvel, and they’re not wrong. Gilman’s secondary world owes much more to Mervyn Peake by way of China Mieville than to J.R.R. Tolkien. Ararat is deliberately weird, its landscape a mix of Victorian invention, political intrigue, religious fanaticism, and Lovecraftian horror. The many rich details weave an elegant and brutal tapestry pregnant with the dust of a century’s worth of smog and touched, on occasion, by the cleansing light of gods who don’t give a flying fuck what goes on with their worshippers.

It’s interesting as all hell, is what I’m saying. And I'm hella glad fantasy like this exists.

THUNDERER isn’t the sort of book you read for the characters, though Arjun, Jack, and all the minor folks they tangle with are fascinating in their own right. It’s about how everything comes together, and the effect each element has on the rest, and the surprising lack of influence some forces exert over Ararat’s inner workings. The city is a character in its own right, brilliant and disinclined to listen. Those who work with it may prosper; those who oppose it likely won’t.

It’s an easy place to lose oneself. I loved it with the sort of fierce, violent, impartial joy I reserve for sprawling, unconventional narratives with much to say and little inclination to spell things out for anyone. All I could do--all anyone involved in this strange and glorious book could do--is go forward and try to understand. And when understanding finally comes, opaque and wondrous, it proves the journey was well worth it.

Be forewarned: the book takes a little while to get going. It’s engaging from the outset, but I was a fair ways in before I got even a shaky feel for the shape of the narrative. If you don’t mind waiting for the payoff, though, and contributing a fair amount of your own energy to it, you most definitely want to read this. It’s fabulous.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read THUNDERER, you can try:

  • Kobo (e-book; for purchase; coupons don't work)
  • Amazon (Kindle e-book; for purchase)

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through one of these links.


  1. Oh, yay. I have this. I am scared to think how long I have had it... I am glad you liked it, though!

    1. I think it was on my TBR for something like two and a half years before I actually read it. Eep!