Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer – Review

Cover- Too Like the Lightning

Published: May 10, 2016

Publisher: Tor Books

Genre: Sci-Fi

Pages: 432 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 2.5/5.0




Tor Books is proud to launch the first novel in a new political science fiction series, Too Like The Lightning by debut novelist Ada Palmer. Palmer’s unique vision mixes Enlightenment-era philosophy with traditional science fiction speculation to bring to life the year 2454, not a perfect future, but a utopian one, described by a narrator writing in an antiquated form to catalog the birth of a revolution. The result is The Iliad meets I, Claudius mixed with the enthusiasm of The Stars My Destination and Gene Wolfe style world building.

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

Perfect for fans of Jo Walton, Robert Charles Wilson and Kim Stanley Robinson, Too Like The Lightning is a refreshing change of pace from the current trend of gritty, dystopian novels. Much like Homer telling of heroic deeds and wine dark seas, Mycroft Canner’s narration will draw you into the world of Terra Ignota—a world simmering with gender politics and religious fervor just beneath the surface, on the brink of revolutionary change.

When I first agreed to review Too Like the Lightning all I really knew was that a futuristic sci-fi political thriller sounded very interesting. I wasn’t sure that I would ultimately enjoy it, but sometimes you come across a new favorite. I cannot say that this is a new favorite or that I will continue with future books in this series, but it was thought provoking.

Ada Palmer was certainly ambitious when writing her debut novel and for that alone I say bravo. She literally wrought a future Earth from imagination and some odd bits of tradition and philosophy. People can travel to anywhere in the world in two hours or less and this has made citizenship obsolete. The seven major groups, or Hives as they are called, mix all across the globe and each has their own niche in the world. There hasn’t been a war in centuries. Culture is drastically changed and to the reader it is at first overwhelming and confusing. Trying to sort out everything and make sense of the new terminology, vocabulary, and the whole society was somewhat off-putting at first but I muddled my way to a respectable level of comprehension. This is one book where I would have appreciated a glossary at the back to reference at my convenience. Too Like the Lightning is written as a historical type account of the events of 2454 by one Mycroft Canner – this lends a unique tone to the story and gives the reader an interesting perspective, particularly of some events.

Mycroft Canner is a Servicer, one who has committed a crime and can no longer partake of society as one normally would. He is required to assist anyone who asks it of him and lives from their generosity. You will quickly see that Mycroft holds company with some of the highest members of this society and he is privy to a number of secrets. There are many characters within this story and all are important in their own ways, but Carlyle Foster, Thisbe Saneer, and Bridger are some of the more main people. Carlyle is a sensayer – kind of like a spiritual advisor, Thisbe is a member of the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’house (this is kind of a family unit) and they are in control of the transportation system. Bridger is very special- he is a secret. Bridger can make anything real, from a drawing to a doll to a cure for all diseases and he’s being cared for in secret by Thisbe, Mycroft, and now Carlyle. There are really too many other players in this game to give them each a mention, but they are varied and have their own motives.

This book has several plot-lines woven together and unfortunately they aren’t all neatly tied up at the end. Too Like the Lightning is the first half of a duology and the story will be continued in Seven Surrenders. Ada Palmer is a very talented writer, whose incredible skills wove together this society as well as the complex storyline and characters. She really threw me some surprises, which I always love in a book. However, this book really wasn’t my cup of tea, which is sad because it is well written, but it’s also quite dense. I’ve got a huge pile of books that I’m dying to read and it’s taken me awhile to plow through this one and I really just wanted to put it down and read something else. This book really should be read at one’s leisure and without any sort of rush at all. The lower rating I gave is purely just because I just wasn’t really feeling this book, despite its quality.



One thought on “Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer – Review

  1. I understand where you’re coming from completely. There were moments where I felt like giving up, because it got almost too difficult to continue. It’s not a bad book, just so far out of my comfort zone that I felt like I really had to work at it, but it’s a fascinating and ambitious novel for sure.


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