*SPOILERS AHEAD* I’m not quite sure if this book fits into the genre where spoilers are an issue, but anyway, you’ve been warned. :)
This will be a brief review, and perhaps my opinion of the book can be best illustrated through the reason for my brevity: I just saw some orange boots at a book & clothing swap and the only thing I have is this book, so I need to bang out a review before someone else nabs the boots! So boots > keeping this book forever. On the other hand, they’re pretty nice boots.
The premise of The Age of Miracles is intriguing: Earth’s rotation slows down, steadily increasing the length of both day and night. On a side note, this edition features some of the blandest and most awkward back-cover blurb writing I’ve ever seen. Which is a shame, because Thompson Walker explores this premise is an interesting way which avoids all the usual pitfalls of speculative writing.
As the blurb manages to convey, The Age of Miracles deals mostly with the social effects of “the slowing”, specifically upon the protagonist, eleven-year-old Julia. In many ways the novel emulates a regular female coming-of-age, with familiar episodes like bullying, family dramas, friendship woes and the first bra purchase (though interestingly, given the explorations of cycles and circadian rhythms, no first-period scene). Tellingly, when the phrase “the age of miracles” appears, it refers to children having grown quickly or hit puberty over the summer.
Sometimes I felt that “the slowing” plot disguises the fact that the growing-up elements aren’t particularly unique. But this impression faded as I read on. Thompson Walker’s portrayal of Julia is nuanced enough to be realistic, and skilfully navigates the portrayal of such a young protagonist. Julia is neither stupid, nor invested with an excessive amount of knowledge – though the past tense allows her narration the benefit of hindsight, which I think is an excellent writing decision.
What really stood out to me – or rather, in a good way, didn’t – is how Thompson Walker weave in the slowing itself. Note “the slowing”: one word, no caps. Even my favourite speculative fiction authors fall into the trap of giving New Technology, or sometimes, inexplicably, even existing stuff, Fancii Nyoo Naymz. In contrast, Thompson Walker is effortlessly convincing with terms like “clock time” (the maintenance of the 24-hour day despite the changing sun time) and “white nights”. These, along with a thousand other subtleties of writing, beautifully build up a world in which a sunlit night is as eerie – and believable – as a starlit day.
One thing I don’t like so much is the latter part of the book. I usually love it when speculative fiction writers plunge gleefully into the logical consequences of their premise. Thompson Walker masterfully builds up gradual anxiety as the long periods of dark wreak havoc with crops. Then at the end, radiation and solar storms suddenly start up, a ploy which switches the social pressure to that of survivalism. Given how it sets up a focus on interpersonal pressures, I felt like wrapping the book up with accelerating physical effects was kind of a cop-out. It wasn’t until I’d finished the book that I noticed its epigraph, a quote that strikes a poignant chord with the ending:
Here in the last minutes, the very end of the world, someone’s tightening a screw thinner than an eyelash, someone with slim wrists is straightening flowers…
Another End of the World, James Richardson
In light of this expectation, Julia’s relationship with her family, her social struggles, and her relationship with Seth take on a new turn. However, in this respect I think that the book ends too late. After Seth leaves, Julia leaps out of her family-focussed narration to summarise worldwide events up to the “present” from which she narrates. On a related note, while the narration’s description of the slowing is wonderfully realistic, the portrayal of the media is much less developed. Sure, Julia’s not old enough to be on social media, but despite the fact that it’s set in the future, everyone gets their news exclusively from TV?
Despite these few gripes, I highly recommend The Age of Miracles despite a few gripes. I cannot fully describe the beautiful and convincing way that Thompson Walker develops this “slowing” premise and its impact on Julia and her family. She has a knack for this speculative genre. I don’t know if I’ll ever re-read it, but Id’ put this book high on your buy-even-if-just-to-read-it-once list, and if you can get it at a library or book swap – do it! I’m looking forward to see what this author writes next.
Okay, it wasn’t that brief. And for anyone who’s wondering…