Author: Natania Barron
Title: Pilgrim of the Sky
Publisher: Candlemark and Gleam (2011)
Disclaimer: Copy received for review purposes.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Just when Maddie Angler thinks she's over the death of her longtime boyfriend, Alvin, she discovers that he's not only alive, but he may just be part god. And a killer. Now it's up to her to unite Eight Worlds she didn't even know existed in the first place, before chaos reigns.
"... a lush, dreamy fable - both vintage gothic, and modern mystery ... lovingly laced with magic and darkness from start to finish." -- Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker
"Barron's book is a sexy trek through alternate worlds, with a fascinating and detailed mythology. This one is a steampunk tale that doesn't play by the rules." -- Mur Lafferty, author and podcaster of Heaven and Hell
"A brilliant, eloquent adventure through time, space, and the human heart." -- Jonathan Wood, author of No Hero
A world-hopping, reality-bending, art-historical, socio-religious steampunk odyssey you won't want to miss!“ GoodReads’ blurb
The blurb does sound interesting, doesn’t it?
Well, the book’s even better.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I received my copy of Pilgrim of the Sky, but it sure wasn’t the detailed, thoughtful, magical tale that I found. Once more, I’ve been so pleasantly surprised!
Maddie is one of the best heroines I’ve read about. Or perhaps I should say she’s one of the best written: Natania Barron manages to take us to the deep pits of anodine life and near-depression at the beginning, when she thinks her old boyfriend is dead. She manages to confuse us with her feelings regarding the “special” brother of said boyfriend, with whom she’s forged a bond that, at times, feels uncomfortably close to love.
Then, she blends it perfectly into the misgivings of a whole new reality, a place where she doesn’t know who to trust and where faces, familiar and alien alike, haunt her from a past that only at times belongs to her. In this world, Maddie makes mistakes and amends, and her change towards heroine begins.
And then, in yet another reality, more strange and dangerous than any before, we see that promise of greatness bloom into... something we’d not have guessed.
In some ways, the progress of Maddie makes this story feel more real than any high fantasy tale has any right to be. Because, yes, I think there’s more of fantasy than of steampunk in here – Second world is definitely steampunk-ish, yes, but a large part of the story takes part in First World... and the mythology behind the ultimate identity of Maddie and her friends feels closer to fantasy to me, for some reason.
But, as I was saying, the characters were so developed, their reactions so genuine given their circumstances, that at some point I found myself forgetting the whole unreal aspect, not to remember it again until I began writing the review, and focusing only on their adventures as they struggled on, not just to save the Worlds but also to discover themselves, to sort oout who they were and what they truly wanted.
As it happens in reality, though, sometimes realization strikes too late.
Not complaining, though – the strength packed by the dark moments makes the rest shine through, and in the end I was left oddly satisfied.
And wondering if, in another world, it could not have gone over differently... But this is getting dangerously close to spoiling, so I’m shutting up now.
I’ve been talking about the Worlds. There’s eight of them, and Pilgrim of the Sky will take us to three: our own, a Victorian, steampunk version of our own, and... something else, quite far apart. The detail of each of the worlds was mind-boggling, and each of them was so rich that they could pass for the “real” one. I particularly liked Second, but that’s just me and my Victorian obsession...
In any case, there’s a huge talent into creating scenarios so closely linked together and, at the same time, so different. And that’s just a clue to the real masterpiece, which is the characters, how each one of them is unique... Even when they’re really not.
Feel intrigued? You should. This was a great story, and I think you’d enjoy it no matter your favorite genre – fantasy, steampunk, mythology... Why don’t you give it a shot?