THE OCTAGONAL RAVEN
Tor / 432 pages / February 2001
Combining science fiction and mystery is a tricky thing; it’s all too easy to get the balance wrong and end with all of one genre or not enough of anything. Sometimes, the scifi or the mystery is simply tacked on to reach a larger audience. If a mystery works, why not set it in the future merely to crossover? But when the future setting is crucial and the mystery is integral, what a great read that can make for. And how well the mix comes together in The Octagonal Raven. Science fiction and thriller in one entertaining read.
Daryn Alwyn is his own man. Born into one of the richest, most influential families in the world, Daryn chooses to go his own way, living his life the way he wishes. Although he has all the advantages of the nanite augmented body and mind of a “pre-select,” he has no intention to use those gifts in the family business. In fact, Daryn fully believes he is living life on his own terms, independent and isolated. How little detachment he has really achieved is about to become painfully obvious to him.
The hidden connections binding norm and pre-select, corporation and government, authority and rebel, will slowly come to light and draw everyone closer in to the breaking point. As usual in dangerously sensitive situations, far too few of those involved have any hint of the explosion building. It will take several attempts on his life to awaken Daryn to the reality of life for most of the population. It will take more than those shocks to bring him to the answer of the mystery.
Modesitt has built a world that seems impossibly distant and frighteningly imminent — perhaps just a giant misstep from our contemporary existence. The locations are teasingly familiar and alien at once, brought vividly to life by the author’s talent for description, concise and lush at the same time. The inventions and innovations of Daryn’s daily life are futuristic, but not fantastic. The characters could as easily be living in our time as in this future, even more fractured world. And, in a business where words apparently come cheap, Modesitt employs an economy of language that permits exposition without B-movie rambling.
Forgetting all the high tech and the tangled secrets, it is the structure of Modesitt’s society that gives The Octagonal Raven its intense drawing power. People are endlessly fascinating, and the group dynamics involved seem an infinite loop that no amount of wealth, good intentions, or passage of time, is capable of breaking.
Seeing, really seeing, the causes and consequences of social stratification is a train wreck that one longs to look away from, but cannot. But, whether one will actually take even the tiniest step to change the injustices is part of the mystery and allure of human beings.
Whether Daryn Alwyn, the lone raven, will take that step is as great a mystery as the identity of his enemies. A mystery well worth digging into.