Well having a week off has allowed me the time I wouldn't usually have to get through this one. I enjoyed it, it was in parts profound. I enjoyed the focus on the artistic, technological and cultural losses humanity would take in the event of population wipe-out. I think Cormac McCarthy's The Road touches on something similar in parts a bit more subtly. This one is slightly guilty in my opinion of hammering the point home a bit too much at times, but it's for the most part done well.
The structure is slightly odd, in that it zips from the current time to the future after a killer flu has wiped out 99 percent of the population and then back to people's memories before the outbreak. There are often sections of a character's experiences played out at different points along their life and to pull it all together into some form of a cohesive structure takes a lot of patience and skill. I think that's what I liked about Mandel's novel, it was calmly done, well-paced and pretty feasible for the most part. An issue I have with fantasy sometimes is it is easy for an author to over reach and sometimes it leads an otherwise good story down a silly path to the point where it’s tough to take it seriously any more. I think if you wish to be a fantasy writer you must master the ability to make people believe that the world you have fashioned is the world that they themselves live, take it a touch too far and it’s easy to extinguish the plausibility.
The other thing that can happen is the story just begins to unravel and lose where its heading to under the weight of the ambition of the world build. I think this happened with GOT (sorry if you love those books/show). Again mostly I think Mandel gets the balance right with this one, there are ideas, particularly with the character of the prophet and his twisted theological cult that could have been fleshed out further. His character is ultimately weak and one dimensional. Additionally, Jeevan Choudhary, who we think will be the main protagonist at the start of the book, just kind of fizzles out as the book progresses. His story line seems full of promise and then he kind of gets written out as though the author doesn't really know what to do with him once he has served his purpose.
But then conversely some of the characters like Clarke, Arthur, Miranda and Kirsten are deep and promising. I loved the air terminal as a setting towards the latter stages and liked the idea of a travelling symphony playing music and acting out old plays in an abandoned wilderness. I was fairly engrossed for most of it, with only a few sections here or there that I almost drifted through.
One of its strengths for me was that I found a lot of what Mandel was trying to say about the world and the people in it resonated with my own opinions and experiences. I kind of feel like elements of what are in there would probably come out in a similar way If I was to write a novel and I think feeling some sort of connection with the author on this level always helps.
Not to mention that it is different and welcomed in an oft-times (sorry probably all the mention of Shakespeare in this one creeping in) hackneyed genre. I will have to see if any of the premises of her other works appeal to me, because she has a lot of potential in my opinion.