I will tell you the truth about Gleam. I got through the first chapter and was downright pissed at the main character already. I was willing to continue on only reluctantly because the casual way this seemingly nice guy was willing to leave his child behind without a fight grated hard. Yes, I understand fighting against a seeming Utopia that others don’t question but to leave behind your son without a second thought? I don’t think so.
But I read on, and I am glad I read on, because what lies beneath the surface eventually comes to light. See, it turns out our protagonist is an asshole with a conscious. And that is the type of character I can read about gladly. Gleam is a bit of post apocalypse, a bit of dystopia, and a whole lot of weird. It is also strangely compelling, a bit more fun that its dark themes should provide, and a damn fine read.
Alan has spent most of his life in the Pyramid, something that appears to be the lone point (oh hey there unintentional pun) of civilization in a world slowly being taken over by a growing swamp. Life is simple here; work your station, give a little blood, and eventually retire in comfort in the pyramid’s garden. But Alan isn’t from the factory and always holds a bit of resentment. Something in his past doesn’t sit right. And when he mouths off a few too many times the Pyramid makes it clear that he can leave into the Discard, lest his family be punished for his actions.
What follows is the tale of a quest. A short, but eventful, messed up quest. A little bit of coercion has Alan in desperate need of the most scarce of mushrooms. The choices are few; dealing with the so called Mushroom Queen (a character who can get her own sequel anytime the author wants to give us one) or track it to the source. Alan, as mentioned, is an asshole who knows how to burn bridges. Asking nicely for the object of his geis probably won’t turn out well so it is team freak show assemble!
A person’s tolerance for Gleam will be tied to their love of quirky characters. I am not sure any of them have that depth thing that makes feel like real people but almost all of them are a kick to read about. Alan’s oldest friend and partner in the Discard has a history that left him without eyelids. A tattoo artist that seems to live on hallucinogenics joins the little journey to probable death without a second though. Alan’s newest squeeze sets up the little party for Alan but obviously has plans of her own. And to top it off the party is joined by a Mapmaker. Mapmakers make people in the discard, people who live with daily violence without blinking, shake in their lack of boots. To visualize this team’s mapmaker think River from Firefly with a whole lot more sadism; yet at time she is the kindest character in the book.
I am also thrilled to have a dystopian future that breaks from the current trend of forcing people into false factions. Barely recognizable as something earth-like this is a world to dig in to. Ancient factory is the best guess but whatever it is this is a land covered in decaying human construction. The people in the Pyramid consider themselves to be the sole point of civilization left; and for all the pride those outside it show there is very little to prove them wrong. Like the best of dystopias this one deals with what themes like the price for security, the price of anarchy, and everything in-between—and doesn’t pretend to give an answer as to who has things right.
A very impressive book and sure to be enjoyed by those who like their world dark and their characters insane.
Copy for review provided by publisher.