3 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
The Quantum Thief is a far future mystery/thriller sci-fi novel. I’m not a big fan of the extreme far future sci-fi stuff, but The Quantum Thief was definitely interesting enough that I enjoyed it. It is really a beautiful novel visually. The scenes are incredibly vivid and dramatic and almost operatic. I found the plot and frequent perspective shifts to be disorienting, though, so you are left with something very unique in my experience, a crowded, busy, distracting morass of a novel from which these poignant, visually arresting scenes suddenly emerge, then suddenly vanish. This is the first in a planned trilogy, so some of the awkwardness might stem from that. I would recommend this book as a somewhat frustrating but unique experience.
Jean Le Flambeur is an infamous thief locked inside an eternal prison. His escape is secured by his promising to do a service for an unknown benefactor, but before he can, he must recover his abandoned memories in the confusing city of Oubliette. Jean must contend with an anxious rescuer while he tries to find out why he abandoned his memories and what he can do to get them back.
The plot is a bit convoluted, and in my opinion suffers under the tyranny of too many prospective characters, which distracts from any clarity of purpose the author originally intended for the story. All the extraneous perspective characters may be integral to the plot of subsequent novels in the trilogy, but here they seemed unnecessary and distracting. I understand that the intent of the book was probably to make something complicated, as the protagonist is supposed to be a diabolical criminal mastermind, but I didn’t feel like the characters in general had great motivations for what they were doing, and the methods they employed were often torturously circuitous.
I really liked that the author drops you right into the action and doesn’t spend a lot of time on exposition, but this, combined with strangely motivated characters and miraculous far future technology, hurt the story, because literally anything could happen at any point with equal probability. This is a common problem in far future sci-fi in my opinion, since if the reader doesn’t have some sort of grounding in the limitations of your setting, then it is hard to build any suspense or anticipation in what the likely outcome of a character’s actions will be. The action-packed minimalist exposition approach exacerbates the problem, since you have no grounding in the setting to start with, and the far future elements come out of nowhere in a jarring manner. There is one scene in particular where you think there might be a fist fight and suddenly people are sprouting wings and shooting diamond missiles out of their fingers.
Despite these flaws, I can’t overstate how distinctively imaginative the setting is and how beautifully striking a lot of the imagery and scenes are. So much of sci-fi has deteriorated into very derivative similar settings with predictable plots that this book really deserves commendation for deviating from the norm. I suspect that it is the book’s great strengths that make the flaws all the more disappointing, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
In some ways, this feels like a wilder, more dramatic, less disciplined version of Ian Bank’s Culture series starting with Consider Phlebas. I suspect that fans of either one of these authors would enjoy the other.