(Audible version: 32 hours, 30 minutes)
This is a big book. It could’ve been done as a trilogy. And it was good.
The book opens with intellectuals living in consents (monasteries, but with women- does the definition of the word allow for that?). They aren’t pursuing faith, but rather “intellectual endeavors”. Prohibited from communicating with the outside world, they toil without technology aside from magic spheres that are pretty impressive. The spheres serve as light source, pillow, tool, something not thoroughly explained in the book but a constant prop and surprisingly useful. The prohibition on outside contact is lifted for 10 days, and the frequency of this period (referred to as apert) varies depending on the class of “avout” you are in (it could be yearly, once a decade, once a century, etc- these folks obviously can live for a while).
Alas, as with all novels, things cannot proceed without something going wrong. In addition to apert, the outside world can call for help from the inside to deal with a pressing issue (referred to as an evocation, or as with many terms in the book simply a shortened form of the word- “Evoke”). Of course, such a pressing issue arises, and a favorite professor of our lead character is evoked. As with typical (of late) Stephenson, all this is wrapped in a deep and thorough backstory, adding to the book’s length.
Long story short (cause I can’t say much more without giving away critical points) our heros are also evoked from the consent, and instead of following instructions take a side trip to pursue their favorite professor. There they find out what’s really going on, reconvene at their appointed destination and take off on a (literally) out of this world adventure.
Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, this is a big and well done book. It’s intimidating but worth it, and very much like reading three books from a series all in one package. The audible version was perfect for me in that it worked out to be like listening to an entire season of a well written television show.
Still trying to catch up on my reviews. I have a list of seven to do, next up (doing them in the order I finished the book) Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. At last check, she still maintained a live journal (cross posting from her blog these days).