A breath of fresh air. It was extremely healing to read some actual anarchist fiction--something that can make me feel good about myself and the world. If you wanted a inverted, optimistic Dishonored, look no further.
It's definitely a shorter read (by the metrics of my 2-hour-podcast-addled brain) and parts of the prose are surprisingly sparse. Something will happen, or you'll meet someone, and you'll think "Gosh, that was fast! I liked that bit! Why couldn't we have gone into more detail?" The map at the front is a perfect metaphor--the capital cities of Borolia and Vorronia, but the only other fleshed out place is Hron.
Ultimately it makes sense. This is a story written by Dimos, and Dimos is explicitly emphasizing certain parts of his story to explain what the hell Hron is to the people living back in Borolia. Writing any story at all is a massive undertaking anyway. This story leaves me wanting more, and I was sad to see it end, so I guess you can read all of this as one big backhanded compliment.
Margaret treats death in such a fascinating way--as a sad, unexpected, almost prosaic thing. People don't get long dramatic death scenes. But they are mourned by the author and the reader. I was absolutely tearing up by the end--and I'm so, so happy that it's not a story of doomed revolution. It's a story of a hard fought victory and an uncertain future.
There are some incredibly poignant quotes, memorable characters, and god-tier end-of-chapter cliffhangers. I literally laughed out loud several times when I got to the end of a chapter, thinking "Dammit, I've got to see THIS."
Anyway, I think this book is a really fantastic primer on what the hell a lot of anarchists believe in. It is not a blueprint or a prophecy for the future: it's the picture of a society's spirit, of a kind of place and a way of thinking. Every bit of worldbuilding we see is vivid and fascinating and, well, fantastical.
You can tell it was written in 2013, and in 2013 I think this book would have hit me like a truck. But it's 2023, and I'm already an anarchist. What I personally love about this book is not its exposition on how anarchist societies can work in practice. I love that it it's a fantasy novel, a hope-punk adventure, that I can feel good reading. For a lot of stories, I have this constant tension in the back of my mind as I'm frustrated with the author and the characters for missing the bigger picture, dammit. Having a piece of entertainment that actually reflects my values for once was really, really nice. I am so, so fucking tired of dystopian fiction about how sad it is to be rich and how awful the police are and the woe of our cynical world, guess we just gotta live with it. Give me this over Succession any day.
Also there was some unexpected poly rep that I found really nice.