Quietus by Tristan Palmgren. ★★★
Quietus is a debut novel that combines historical fiction with science fiction. It has some elements I appreciated, but ultimately, I wasn’t wowed by it.
Habidah, an anthropologist from another dimension, has been sent to our world, during the Black Death’s sweep over Europe. Her own home, a set of alternate realities bound together by an AI-ruled trans-dimensional empire, is being devastated by its own, mysterious plague, and the goal is to learn cooping strategies by studying how Europe reacts to the Black Death. Habidah is supposed to be a neutral observer, but in the face of such suffering, she struggles to hold on to her neutrality, eventually making the decision to rescue one person: the monk Niccolucio. Niccolucio discovers there’s much more to the universe than he imagined, and, surprisingly, Habidah discovers the same.
To start off with, I think the plot structure was weak. It takes quite a while for Habidah and Niccolucio to come into contact with each other and even longer for the main trans-dimensional conflict to pick up speed. Basically, I felt like the story didn’t get started until around 60% into the book. Also, I never found the plot that interesting. There’s some concepts that are intriguing, such as the trans-dimensional empire and the plague that’s destroying its people on the molecule level. I found those elements satisfying, but somehow I kept considering putting the book down. I think overall there’s a lack of tension and pacing.
Going into Quietus, I was 95% sure that there’d end up being a romance between Habidah and Niccolucio. Look, I’ve read enough books to know to expect it, all right! However, in this instance I was actually wrong. There’s no romantic subplot in Quietus, which was quite refreshing. As for Habidah and Niccolucio themselves, neither was entirely memorable. I didn’t dislike them while reading, but they’re not compelling either. Sort of like the book as a whole?
The setting did feel believable and well researched, and I appreciated the innovative touches the science fiction added to the historical. I do think that Quietus suffers in comparison to Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, which similarly combines science fiction with a historical fiction portrayal of the Black Death but with stronger pacing and an emotional center. Oh, well.
In conclusion, Quietus has a couple of interesting concepts but with hum-drum execution. I’m not planning on reading any sequels.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.