IN SHORT: Master thief Jean le Flambeur must find the fractured pieces of his own mind in order to pull off one last heist on Mars.
WHAT IT IS: A fresh, fully realized vision of the far future where technology is like magic, bodies are swappable, and memories aren’t what they seem. The main character, Jean le Flambeur, is very likeable as the classy thief. Oh, and there is totally a faction descended from World of Warcraft gamers.
WHAT IT IS NOT: Accessible. In his debut novel, Hannu Rajaniemi follows the Show, Don’t Tell rule with a ruthlessness I haven’t seen in a while. Expect to get bombarded with terms like q-dots, spimescape, Sobornost, guberniya, tzaddik, stranglet, gevolet, and so on with little frame of reference. And there’s no glossary.
WHAT I THOUGHT: So first, let’s get one thing straight. During the first third of the novel, you’re going to be like “well, this is cool and all, but what the flip is going on?” The torrent of new words and concepts doesn’t let up, but after a while, enough clues get dropped that I was able to figure out most of it. Not all, mind you, but enough to get by.
This is not an easy novel to read. But it is a rewarding novel to read.
Fortunately, the novel has some snappy prose that eases the sense of confusion. Hannu Rajaniemi keeps his scenes short and to the point. I never felt like the novel was starting to drag during all its 367 pages. Whenever I started to tire of a certain scene, it switched to something else, and I felt myself being drawn back into the rich world, determined to figure it out.
It is also populated with some excellent characters. Jean and the rest of the cast each have distinct voices and fascinating stories, from the mysterious warrior Mieli to the youthful investigator Isidore. The walking Martian city of Oubliette, where most of the novel takes place, is very much a character in its own right, and is a vividly realized location.
With all of that said, I still felt like I was stumbling through the novel, unclear about what was at stake or what anyone’s goals were. I knew Jean wanted to collect the scattered pieces of his mind, but that’s about it. Also, this is apparently the first in a trilogy, so don’t expect to “get” the ending. I sure didn’t. It was still cool. It just had a strong “To Be Continued” vibe.
If you’re willing to overlook these minor weaknesses, then give The Quantum Thief a read. It’s well worth your time. Science Fiction has a vibrant new voice in Hannu Rajaniemi.
VERDICT: Strongly Recommended.