Book: The Causal Angel

03 Aug

Back to non-pony reviews. I might even toss in a anime post in sometime next week. Or what I think about fifth edition dungeons and dragons now that I’ve played a few sessions with my weekly group. But first, the conculsion of the triology that started with The Quantum Thief. Which as you may or may not know is quite possibly my favorite book of all time. There are some spoilers below, and I would recommend reading the first two books (The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince) first anyway. Summary of long review below the break: I was disappointed. The first two books were a lot better.

The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi

The final book of the trilogy that started with The Quantum Thief, which is one of my favorite books ever. I’m not sure how to sum up what I felt about this book. It’s a situation where there were a lot of parts that I liked less, but the overall story is more than the sum of it’s parts. There is some disappointment. It did not have the ending I would have written for it.

Overall, the trilogy is a downward slide from the first book. I loved The Quantum Thief, then liked The Fractal Prince, then kind of lukewarm about The Causal Angel. I think the main reason is that in the first book the concepts were the core of things, the world second, characters third, and plot a distant last place. Not that any of them were badly done. Just a matter of focus. The second and third stories drifted away from the ideas, using them as set dressing and mere worldbuilding details. The interesting concepts simply became the pieces the characters were moving around to advance the plot. Still there, but no longer the central focus.

Another thing is that the zoku culture in this last book is explored, and he doesn’t do that good a job of it. The Quantum Thief we got to see pictures and pieces of the subornost culture and it was a extension of the technology. A straightline extrapolation of mind-copy technology taken to a very far extreme. Which was awesome. The martian city, likewise, the memory sharing technology was the core of the society. How memory and perception are linked and how time alive can be currency. Even in The Fractal Prince we get the last city on Earth where stories have power and corruption of physical and mental forms is a constant danger due to out of control technology. The zuko in The Causal Angel don’t really have that. They have cool tech, but the author does a very poor job explaining how the central concept shapes their society. The whole games and communities bits just seem to be bits like all the other bits. Plus there were a lot of modern day references that I thought were a bit out of place. The whole zoku community volition thing, where it calculates what everybody wants and moves everyone to act in the best interests/desires of the job is a cool concept. Yet we see that instead of the subliminal thing it was implied to be, that it is something they can perceive and one character can even resist and manipulate. It’s treated as just another piece of tech to be used and worked around instead of a foundational shaping point.

I don’t want to beat up the story much. The author is still quite good and the characters all very well developed. I still enjoyed reading it, for the most part, it’s just that at the end of the story I close the book and my reaction was ‘that was it?’. Part of it is the ending is, well, unsatisifying. Turns out the macguffin they were chasing after the entire story is really just a macguffin and the minute they grab it, the story is over. I’m trying not to give spoilers, so I’m not telling how the story ends, and for most of the book the goal has been to get the macguffin so that everything can be ended, but it still happened so quickly at the end and without any real sense of closure. At least in my opinion. Various characters get what they wanted, other characters don’t get what they wanted, and the nature of the sides involved sometimes they were copies of the same character.

Spoilers: Writing this up I think I’ve figured out what my main problem is. The main character (sort of) of all three books has been Jean le Flambeur, or a version of him that isn’t really him. For the entire trilogy he’s been living in his own shadow. Trying to figure out if reclaiming his past self is worth it, or becoming someone new. We learn a cool thing at the end of The Fractal Prince that he might merely be a manifested trickster achetype. Which was an awesome moment. It was one of the things that made the second book pretty good. Well, that gets tossed away in this one. We learn he was just touched by the trickster spirit and is really just this guy. He gets all his memories and past treasures and victories back, well, access to them if he wants them. He decides to get rid of his past selves and do the right thing. Which leads to all his past treasures and secrets getting destroyed and then he sacrifices himself. So all the past glory of the original Jean is lost, the current Jean is killed off, and nothing really remains of either.

Now, one could make a pretty convincing argument that Mieli is the main character. She’s the one that gets the closure at the end, who goes through a subtle but important character arc over the three books. Yet her story just doesn’t have the weight behind it. She’s just a bit dull, more plot-device than character for a lot of the trilogy. My favorite moment in The Fractal Prince involved her, so there is some emotional weight there, but it never really built up again after that. There were little moments in The Causal Angel that almost managed it. If most of the book had been her learning and living with the zoku, and the zoku protrayed as well as the mars city in the first book, it would have been wonderful. But all of that was overshadowed by the big looming plot that seemed to be pushing everything along with little care for worldbuilding or exploring new ideas.

So, The Quantum Thief remains one of my favorite books. The Fractal Prince is one I will re-read from time to time. I reread it before starting in on The Causal Angel and enjoyed it a lot this time. However, I’m not sure I’ll be reading The Causal Angel again. There isn’t any cool ideas in it that weren’t in the first two, except for all the stuff around the macguffin, and so just thinking up my own ending will be more satisifying than reading the third book again. It really does feel like a lot of series have felt. The first book was a product of years, maybe decades, of thinking and working out ideas and plots and character. Then when it got published books two and three had to be rushed out in a year or two. So the quality suffers.

Also, and this might actually be the one thing that ruined it for me, the character I actually hated in this trilogy doesn’t get any kind of payback for what they did. Honestly, that right there pretty much soured the entire book for me retoractively. Plus I’m pretty sure that the big villain of the piece, the all-defector, wasn’t actually defeated. Given how unstoppable he was for pretty much the entire trilogy I really wanted to know what happened next. But nope, story ends right after the macguffin is used.

If you’ve read the first two books in the trilogy, go ahead and read this one. Just prepare to be disappointed. I certainly was.


Posted by on August 3, 2014 in Books 2014, Reviews


3 responses to “Book: The Causal Angel

  1. Deonte

    December 3, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Hello, great review, I also enjoyed this book but found the second half / ending a little confusing ( I might just be reading into it too much) I have a question or two.

    Did original Jean get released from the Dilemma Prison? Or was that more less a depiction of true death? I suppose my questions stem from the lack of closure I feel for Jean overall.


    • Griffin

      December 3, 2014 at 9:22 am

      Well, ‘original Jean’ is a bit of a misnomer. There really isn’t an ‘original’ version. Just lots of different ones. But yeah, the ending was kinda just ‘everything is over now and take our word that it was a good ending’.

      • Deonte

        December 3, 2014 at 5:33 pm

        Ah okay, I figured as much, man Jean’s end really confused and bothered me haha, thanks for the clarification. Oh well, decent book, disappointing ending but at least Mieli got a form of closure. But hey thanks for responding, I like your site so I’ll be sticking around.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s