Debris (Jo Anderton, The Veiled Worlds #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Debris is an imaginative fantasy with a unique setting that has a lot of promise but proved to move too slowly and be too predictable for my tastes. This is the first in a series, so I would excuse the author for not bringing everything to a resolution, but I still found the conclusion rather unsatisfying. The setting is unique. I would be tempted to call it steampunk due to the heavy reliance on fantasy technologies replacing contemporary ones, the dark industrial feel of the cities, and extreme social class disparities, but there really aren’t many gears or cogs in sight, and the technology definitely stems from magical rather than mechanical roots. There is also a heavy reliance on setting-specific myth and legend, which I find a bit tiresome as a narrative device but which works all right here. The protagonist isn’t horrible, but after the introduction I found myself able to predict her entire story arc, which detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book. The supporting characters aren’t really more than set dressing to the extent that it is easy to confuse them with each other. Despite these faults, I would recommend this book for any fantasy fan looking for an interesting, distinct setting and who can forgive a somewhat predictable and uninteresting protagonist and story.

Greater Detail:
Lady Tanyana is an architect binder, a high ranking member of the elite who is able to construct grandiose buildings and sculptures out of raw materials without lifting a finger. While working on her magnum opus, a gigantic statue, strange forces interfere with her work and she suffers a grave accident that leaves her unable to function as a binder any longer. She is then consigned to work as a collector, the lowest rung of her society. As a collector, she is tasked with picking up the debris that binders leave behind. As she adjust to her new life, she comes to suspect that her fall from grace was orchestrated by powerful nobles and that her survival might very well depend on figuring out what motivated them to destroy her.

The fall from nobility trope has been around a long time as a literary device, but there aren’t really enough interesting variations for me to have any interest in books that rely on it entirely for a story. Debris doesn’t really deviate from anything you would expect at any point. The protagonist is rich powerful and thinks everything is wonderful until her fall, when she despairs a little bit then realizes that her fellow downtrodden people are all wonderful and kind and realizes that the people she used to associate with are all atrocious. There really isn’t anything more to the story in the broadest sense.

Aside from the lame story, the protagonist herself doesn’t have anything interesting going on for her. She apparently wears weird clothes compared to everyone else, but given that we mostly just read about what she is wearing, they don’t exactly seem weird to the reader. She came up from impoverished circumstances, which only serves to undermine the revelations she makes in her fall from grace. I guess she is supposed to be remarkably talented both at her binding abilities before she loses them and her debris collecting abilities after, but again, we are really only given her as a representative sample of these abilities, so the only evidence that what she is doing is extraordinary is other characters doing variations of exclaiming loudly, “Wow, that is extraordinary, I totally can’t do that!” It fails the narrative rule of “show, don’t tell” pretty soundly.

Despite the lame story and characters, I still recommend the book based solely on the strength of the setting. Readers interested in a more narrative- or character-centric book should definitely shy away from this title, but if the fantasy genre appeals to you primarily because of the strange and exciting worlds that the it can take you to, then you won’t be disappointed here. The world is a weird mixture of magic, a setting-specific mythology, and a dark gritty post industrial feel that I really haven’t seen elsewhere. If you want to got to a strange and interesting place, then Debris is a surefire bet for you.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
The setting of this book reminds me a bit of S.M. Peter’s Whitechapel Gods. Although I disliked the story here, it is worlds better than that found in Whitechapel Gods, which I found somewhat of a chore to get through. If you liked that book you will definitely like this one.

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