The Modern World (Steph Swainston)

The Modern World (aka Dangerous Offspring in the US version) is the third novel of the Fourlands Series by Steph Swainston.
[Here are my reviews of the others.]
Finished on: 1.8.2016

The circle’s architect Frost has a plan to get quite a bit of land back from the insects. So the Fourlands are at work building a huge dam, to then flush out the insects. The people not occupied with that are busy fighting the insects in combat, led by quite a few of the circle’s immortals. Among them is Lightning, the archer, but Lightning is otherwise occupied: his daughter Cyan is missing. What he considered simple teenage rebellion so far has him more concerned. So he asks the circle’s messenger Jant to find her and bring her back to him. But Jant’s search brings him right back to his own past.

The Modern World is an exciting continuation of the Fourlands series and simply a great book in its own right. Again I can only say that I loved it.


It feels that with The Modern World, Swainston starts to tackle some of the larger things that were being left unclear until now, although she isn’t quite at the point yet where she actually reveals everything. (Maybe in the next – and thus far last – book of the series? But since that is more of a prequel, probably not.) But with the Emperor out of his throne and in the confrontation between the Emperor and the Vermiform, which was simply my favorite part of the entire book, a lot of things are thrown at the reader that make sense of things and some that open up a whole lot of questions. Question that actually shake the foundations of how the world was thought to function.

I generally loved that we got to see more of the Vermiform. She’s a great, interesting character and so far her appearances were much too short. I still wouldn’t mind seeing even more of her though. But from the chase scene through all of the shift worlds (and running away from such a great monster to boot) to her captivity in the glass jar, to her frightful appearance in the battle – it was all great.

It’s the frist time in the books that we do get a chapter from the perspective of somebody other than Jant; Lightning gets to reveal his backstory on his own terms. And while I like that idea, I was not that enthusiastic about the backstory itself. It actually made me like Lightning less as I was reading – Lightning who has been nursing a great hurt over centuries and has basically hung his entire identity on that hurt and then it turns out that his young bride was dramatically killed in their wedding night, but the bigger problem is that she wasn’t buried as he thought she should be but left for scavengers as her people usually deal with their dead bodies. And not for a second does he even consider to see that custom from their perspective instead of his own. And if your (second) biggest trauma stems from a complete lack of intercultural competence despite being several centuries old, having had to deal with different people in that time and even marrying one from another culture, well, my compassion for you is limited. And even if I accept that he was that traumatized by his own grief and the general situation, he has had centuries to work through it. Instead he has been careful to keep the trauma fresh and unhealed.

At least at the end of the book he redeems himself, at least in my eyes and despite the fact that it is a rather harsh thing to do for the un(der)prepared Cyan, when he lets Cyan win his place in the circle and decides that what the Fourlands need is change and not immortals who keep everything the same. He seems to realize that this is not only what the Circle has done to the Fourlands, but also what he has done to himself.

But the main character is still Jant and he remains an asshole – but an asshole I do like to read about. One who has no trouble lying – and it’s never made more obvious than in this book that he just isn’t a reliable narrator.

As you can probably gather from my emotional response to the characters and the book, I was fully invested in the story and I couldn’t get through it fast enough (although it is not a quick read – for that, Swainston’s prose is too dense) to find out what happened and where things would be going. And while I could see the impending doom earlier than the characters in the book, that didn’t bother me, quite to the contrary, it made me even more desperate for everybody to figure their shit out.

What can I say, I love this series. I can hardly believe that there is only one more book left for me to read.

Summarizing: Totally recommended.

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