Eastern European politics (both Soviet and post-Soviet), color revolutions, spy games, long hidden family secrets, and a quiet sci-fi premise? Sign me up. Ken MacLeod‘s The Restoration Game gives all of that, plus a little bit more. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
It’s a quick read, with an engaging and easy-to-follow female protagonist who, as the story unfolds, comes to feel like the appropriate scion of all those who’ve come before her. I’ll explain that, I swear. The book gets bonus points from me for having a female narrator; I’m writing a piece with a teenaged female narrator (as I’ve mentioned previously), and everything is grist for the mill. And I should note that while I quite liked Lucy’s narration in The Restoration Game, I’d love to hear women’s opinions of the narrator’s experience and voice in this book… I don’t exactly have a good frame of reference by which to judge it.
About that scion comment: our protagonist, Lucy Stone, opens the story with a cliffhanger and no context. It works well, catching you quickly and pulling you in, and then the entire book becomes an extended digression to give the context for that scene, only finally reaching resolution (appropriately enough) at the very end of the piece. At the beginning, you have no idea of what Lucy has been through, what her family history is, or what she is capable of… but by the end, things fall wonderfully into place. It’s wonderfully done, and flows smoothly from start to finish.
Ok, that wasn’t quite right. There’s still that initial sci-fi premise, right at the very beginning of the book before Lucy ever has a chance to speak, and I bounced off it the first two times I opened the book. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I thought I’d set out to read and wasn’t nearly as interesting to me at the very beginning as it was by the very end. After some reflection, I think MacLeod placed the introduction of the sci-fi premise correctly; there really isn’t a better place to put it that makes more sense and doesn’t disrupt the story further. Without that initial introduction, later elements of the book would make very little sense and feel insufficiently well signaled (here we are back at the perils and prerequisites of good foreshadowing). MacLeod clearly set himself a difficult project, possibly without realizing that he was doing it, but I think he managed to do a good job of it.
It looks like this post isn’t even going to have a break. The Restoration Game is fast enough and internally intricate enough that I don’t want to ruin anything for you by accident, so I won’t bother with the usual danger of discussing potential spoiler material. Suffice to say that it’s a good book, one worth picking up for quick fun, especially if you’re interested in a jaunt through spy games and epistemological thought experiments.