Book Review

The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner


Rating: ★★★☆☆

Humans eventually managed to conquer space, and set about exploring and colonising other planets.  Having spread, they have also diversified.  Some are now immortal (although that seems as much a curse as a blessing) whilst others have evolved into new forms:

Humankind has changed, fractured, Prismed into a dozen breeds of fairy-tale grotesques, the chaos of expansion, war and ruin flinging humanity like bouncing sparks around the blackness of space.  Man has been resculpted in a hundred different places, and the world as he knew it – this world – is gone forever.

Set some 12,000 years in the future, The Promise of the Child is largely focussed on Lycaste, a reclusive individual who is renowned for his beauty, although he hates the attention that this garners.  When events force him away from his sheltered existence and out into the real world, he meets Sotiris, one of the immortal Amaranthine, who is grieving the loss of his sister, and their stories become linked as they are caught up in the plans of Aaron the Long-Life who seeks the Amaranthine throne.

The Promise of the Child is an incredibly complex novel, and the prologue immerses the reader straight into a new and wholly different world with very little background and context as to the setting and what is happening.  I found this to be quite confusing initially, but if you do feel like this, stick with it – it does become clearer.  Not clear, perhaps, but clearer.  Toner has created such a broad complex world that I occasionally struggled to follow what was going on (although the glossary was very useful!), and it seemed to me that the novel might have benefitted from a little less breadth and more depth, as I couldn’t quite get to grips with the world in which it’s set, although I expect that the fault lies with me rather than the novel.

That said, Toner has written a wonderfully compelling story, and I did want to keep reading to find out what would happen, particularly with Lycaste, who is as close to a main character as the novel has.  A naïve and nervous individual, he has led an extremely sheltered life, and his exploration of the world allows the reader to learn more about the vast universe that humans have come to inherit.

Toner has explored some wonderful ideas in his debut novel, and I was particularly taken with one aspect in particular:

When people – humans, good old fashioned Homo sapiens – left the world as conquistadors, adventurers, slavers, industrialists and a thousand other things, they found the one thing they weren’t expecting.  They found nothing.

I think that the idea that our planet is the only one to have produced life is a rare one, and it made this novel a hugely original read.

The Promise of the Child is an incredibly ambitious and brilliantly written debut.  A sprawling space opera, it sits somewhere between the science fiction and fantasy genres, much in the way that Frank Herbert’s Dune does, and I think that if you like the political machinations of novels such as Dune then you will enjoy The Promise of the Child.

The Promise of the Child is the first instalment of the Amaranthine Spectrum, and book two – The Weight of the World – will be published on 16 February 2017.  I think it will be extremely interesting to see where the story goes.

Many thanks to the publisher, Gollancz, for providing a copy of The Promise of the Child to review via Netgalley.

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