These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe is a post-apocalyptic novella releasing on May 31, 2022, from TorDotCom.
An interesting novella with complex world-building, These Prisoning Hills is less action than introspection, and while conceptually fascinating, it suffers a little from wordy prose and disjointed structure.
I received this as an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
In a long-ago war, the all-powerful A.I. ruler of the Voluntary State of Tennessee—Athena Parthenus, Queen of Reason—invaded and decimated the American Southeast. Possessing the ability to infect and corrupt the surrounding environment with nanotechnology, she transformed flora, fauna, and the very ground itself into bio-mechanical weapons of war.
Marcia, a former captain from Kentucky, experienced first-hand the terrifying, mind-twisting capabilities of Athena’s creatures. Now back in the Commonwealth, her retirement is cut short by the arrival of federal troops in her tiny, isolated town. One of Athena’s most powerful weapons may still be buried nearby. And they need Marcia’s help to find it.
First of all, that COVER. It’s gorgeous.
Typically, I enjoy a novel where I have to piece things today, but maybe my mindset was just off, or the style didn’t work for me, but I had a lot of trouble ramping up the enthusiasm to read this novella once I started. The storyline jumps around in time, but because there is so much backstory to fill us in on (the AI, how the AI and other tech works, the odd designations of the nanotech, the way Tennesse/Kentucky has been reordered, the different bands and what they mean, and Marcia’s story) I had trouble keeping it all lined up in my head. Most of the backstory comes from the blurb.
Now, there were some things I really liked. I loved that Marcia was an older woman in her sixties.
We don’t often get this as the main character in this genre, so this was great. I also loved how this was not an integral part of the plot but did have some bearing on it – it was not just a random decision. In fact, it felt like nothing in this book was an arbitrary decision – it’s one of those novellas that I really think could have been blown out into a novel because there is so much going on, and you could tell the world-building goes beyond what we see in the story.
Yet, as impressive as this was, Marcia was a bit bland, and her history with Carter didn’t feel integral to the plot or served to explain anything further. There were also a few side characters that blended together.
Still, I enjoyed the metaphors and certain turns of the phrase that the author used. I can’t quote anything because it’s an ARC, but if you enjoy prose on the more flowery or perhaps more ethereal side, this would work for you. It’s definitely more The Road with robots than Transformers.
But, if you have the time to devote to really digging into this novella (and to check out the other novellas Rowe has written in the same universe), it’s worth the look!
You can pre-order the novella here.
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