Review: By Light Alone

By Adam Roberts

Gollancz, out now

A world revolutionised by genetic manipulation whereby the body draws in nutrients through the hair – widening the gap between rich and poor, and male and female…

Adam Roberts’ latest novel reverberates in the mind long after finishing reading. Set not that far in the future – technology has expanded, but cultural references have still have 21st Century resonances – it presents both sides of a very twisted coin, with an almost 1920s-style world inhabited by the super-rich (an idea picked up by the art deco style cover), and a devastatingly regressed life for the poor. And even those terms take on a whole new meaning in this society.

Roberts divides the book into four unequal sections, the first centred around George, a weak man whose daughter Leah is kidnapped while he and his wife are holidaying in Ararat. When she is found, he ignores the obvious signs of problems, keeping his head buried in the sand, even as the world seems to go to hell around him. The second section focuses on Leah, after she is rescued, the third on George’s self-centred and self-pitying wife. The fourth, Oddysea, charts Leah’s journey and shows us the realities of the world outside the protective bubble inside which she had been brought up. Inevitably all these worlds collide, and while it’s not a feelgood ending, it is absolutely the right one.

Stylistically, each part is different, as befits the different points of view, but depicting a society which is affected so heavily by the sun leads to numerous uses of light as metaphor – and the descriptions of grown hair are myriad.

Verdict: Not a book for the faint-hearted, this is one of Roberts’ best to date. 8/10

Paul Simpson

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