April 24, 2024

Review: The Saint of Bright Doors


When I read books, especially ones I know I'm going to write about later, I stick slips of paper in the pages to mark items that interest me and which I think will interest other readers: a particularly lovely prose passage, a paragraph of worldbuilding, a section explaining the book's theme. The more scraps of paper I have in the pages, the more complex and thought-provoking a book is, to me.

This book has more slips than I've used in a long time. 

I don't even know how you would classify this. It's science fiction in that it has hints of a multiverse and other worlds, but at the same time it's very much a fantasy with virtually immortal humans who gain godlike powers and the ghosts of people from those other worlds coming through the titular "bright doors." It's not our Earth--there are references to two "supercontinents"--but the characters also have automobiles, cell phones, television, crowdfunding, and the internet. Sometimes in reading the story you almost get a glimpse of the real-life cities, countries and history the story is based on (the writer hails from Sri Lanka) but then the story will take a wild turn and go off in its own fantastical direction (particularly when the protagonist, Fetter, is wandering through a "prison" that must encompass hundreds of square miles). It's a book where you gradually realize that Fetter and the character actually telling the story are not one and the same, and when it dawns on you just who--or rather, what--the narrator is, your entire perception of the story is thrown for a loop. 

It's a unique story unlike just about anything I've read before, bursting with inventiveness and ambition. Its scope is as large as making Fetter's father a 2500-year-old god-human who can twist the fabric of time and space, and as tightly focused as taking on a country's repeated occupations and the repression of undesirable castes and races. At the same time, it's the story of Fetter, a former child assassin who outgrew his god-mother's manipulation of his childhood, attempting to mold him into a weapon to kill his god-father, and how he learns to let go of his anger and become his own person. 

With all this density, needless to say, it's not a quick read. You have to take your time with this one. Let the characters and concepts slowly sink in, and contemplate what the author is trying to say. The book sometimes meanders in places (especially when Fetter is walking through that miles-long prison, with its hundreds of districts) and you might be wondering, what is the point of this? But every weird situation Fetter gets into, or strange character he encounters, does have a point, and eventually you will find out what it all means. 

I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would; usually a book like this is not my cup of tea at all. It's a helluva debut, and this writer is one to keep an eye on. 

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