I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.
For me, this book rated about 3.5 stars—somehow in that netherland between “I liked it” and “I really liked it.” I’ve rounded the score up to 4 stars, because it really was better than average despite the fact that I doubt that I will ever re-read it.
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “intricate.” Despite its 2013 copyright date, to me it read like a book from the 19th century, very slow building in the beginning but reaching a feverish pitch by the last several chapters. I found myself wishing that I knew a little bit about astrology, so that I could appreciate the horoscopes at the beginning of each section and mentioned in the various chapter headings. Each of the 12 men introduced to Walter Moody in the first chapter represent a sign of the zodiac and are given suitable personality characteristics; their involvement seems to wax and wane according to astronomical charts. They may also have overtones of the 12 disciples, matching Mr. Staines, who is presumed dead, and who becomes a somewhat Christ-like figure in the end.
Having briefly visited New Zealand, I was reminded of the landscape and the weather I experienced there (thinking of the pouring rain while we visited Milford Sound, the temporary waterfalls cascading from the tops of the cliffs surrounding the Sound). I also enjoyed a couple of mentions of the tui, one of the most common birds seen and heard on that particular trip, and of the albatrosses following the ships.
It was in the nature of the time period chosen (a pioneering gold-rush time in N.Z. history) that there would be few female characters in the novel. Anna and Lydia are very much in the minority, but despite that the entire plot hinges on the two of them, especially Anna. I also appreciated the multiculturalism of the cast of characters, with one Maori and two Chinese characters firmly entwined in the tale.
It all comes down to who knew what when—and then what are they going to do about it? The interplay of personalities, the roads chosen or not chosen, the back-stories that inform the current story, all enjoyable parts of a very detailed and fiercely planned piece of writing.
Cross posted at my blog, including bird photos: