(NB This is an imported review from my original site, as I’ll soon be continuing with this series and would like to keep all the reviews together)
The Demi-Monde is the most advanced computer simulation ever devised. Created to prepare soldiers for the nightmarish reality of urban warfare, it is a virtual world locked in eternal civil war. Its thirty million digital inhabitants are ruled by duplicates of some of history’s cruellest tyrants: Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the Holocaust; Beria, Stalin’s arch executioner; Torquemada, the pitiless Inquisitor General; Robespierre, the face of the Reign of Terror.
But something has gone badly wrong inside the Demi-Monde, and the US President’s daughter has become trapped in this terrible world. It falls to eighteen-year-old Ella Thomas to rescue her, yet once Ella has entered the Demi-Monde she finds that everything is not as it seems, that its cyber-walls are struggling to contain the evil within and that the Real World is in more danger than anyone realises.
At last! An unusual read! If you’re looking for a unique and ambitious blend of Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Historical, Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Fantasy madness, you HAVE to check this out.
Rees has created such a fascinating premise here, and the novel more than lives up to its blurb. I’ve never read anything like this before, and I think Stephen Baxter’s “Discworld’s savage, noir cousin” quote is the most apt at describing what you can expect from the first novel in the Demi-Monde series. You get to explore a virtual reality world filled with Historical psychopaths, hurrah! And I think an extra hats off to Rees is needed here for the fact that he’s not gone for the obvious figures, instead of the front men he’s gone for the real architects behind some of the worst figures in our history, giving us characters with a truly terrifying mix of prejudice, intolerance, cruelty and genius. This one really puts the “punk” into Cyber/Steampunk, holding up a mirror to the ugliest aspects of humanity. It’s both entertaining and soul destroying all at once.
Obviously with a cast of characters like this, it’s going to be a novel filled with a blend of racism and sexism that you’re not going to be used to reading. It’s like being hit repeatedly over the head with a mallet. It works, but there’s an element of repetition to it that does get tiring after a few hundred pages. We get explanations of the terms used in the demi-monde in many different ways, and often an explanation really isn’t needed at all, the term and the context is enough. What you get on top of this is a blurb at the start of each chapter offering an explanation, an overt explanation in the narrative, a vocal explanation from one of the characters, and also…should you still be in any doubt, a glossary of terms at the back. It gets too much, and lessens the impact of what are really clever and sharp observations. Same goes for the endless Capitalisations To Make A Point. Honestly, we get it, you can stop now! for example, LessBienism, NuJus, HimPerialism, HerEticalism, to name just a few. For my money, if Rees had just eased back a bit and given the reader a little more credit, his ideas could have had an even greater impact.
But mallets aside, it was a fascinating read. As a blend of genres it worked really well for me, and it’s nice to see something so ambitious. This is definitely one that stands out from the crowd. It’s a little frustrating in places, not least at the end! If you’re not a fan of cliffhangers, you’re going to be irritated. Fortunately I have the second in the series to hand so I can dig into that straightaway and start looking for answers.