Reviewed by David Swatling
“When it comes to genres, the borders are increasingly undefended,” wrote author Margaret Atwood on the difference between sci-fi and speculative fiction. She sees the latter as stories descended from the books of Jules Verne about events that really could occur but simply hadn’t happened – yet. This places the imaginative debut novel Osiris by E.J. Swift squarely in the arena of speculative fiction – or more specifically, in the realm of a subgenre that has been dubbed cli-fi.
Swift conjures a vivid city of glass towers and pyramids rising from the ocean, the last haven in a world devoid of land – as far as the inhabitants are aware. No one has dared undertake an expedition to confirm this fact for a very long time.
This watery universe is presented through the alternating voices of two young protagonists: Adelaide Mystik, rebellious daughter of a wealthy founding family; and Vikram Bai, impoverished refugee of the Western Quarter. After they both witness a public execution (by drowning, of course) their lives become inextricably entangled. Adelaide needs help to search for her missing twin brother. Vikram needs support to plead his case for reform before the Counsel. Neither fully trusts the other, but time is running out and rules need to be broken.
Swift writes with assured elegance and her eco-dystopian vision is politically complex. Although Osiris dives into the deep end with a strong start, the midstream narrative tends to tread water for too long before powering to the finish line. Since this is only Book One of a projected series (The Osiris Project) one hopes the talented author will overcome the structural stumbles of her first novel, just as her engaging young heroes meet the challenges of the precarious future she has created for them.
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