cover image The Unfinished Land

The Unfinished Land

Greg Bear. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-328-58990-3

With this apocalyptic Elizabethan fantasy, Hugo and Nebula award-winner Bear (Blood Music) combines Irish myth, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series into a circuitous trudge that neglects plot for prophecy. Fisherman Reynard Shotwood, 15, the sole survivor of a battle with the Spanish Armada, is rescued from his wrecked boat by a Spanish warship and lands on the mythic, monster-festooned islands of Tir Na Nog. Tir Na Nog’s warring factions recognize Reynard as the bearer of a mysterious destiny central to their survival—though he must remain ignorant of his fate. To fulfill his purpose, Reynard searches the islands for the alien Crafters—even as colonizing Spanish forces and slaving Eastern queens work to destroy the Crafters’ technologically advanced works. Bear’s prose is impressive, but readers may struggle to make sense of his surrealist dreamscapes and inconsistently applied Early Modern English. When the stylistic layers are peeled back, they reveal a disappointingly trope-ridden core: an overskilled young white man fighting against women and people of color to defend the technological wonders of Western civilization. This parable’s expired punch line proves not worth the journey. Agent: Richard Curtis, Richard Curtis Assoc. (Jan.)