Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Brasyl by Ian McDonald.

As with many of Ian McDonald’s other novels, there are parallel protagonists and plot strands that are brought together only at the end of Brasyl. The unusual thing in this case is that they run “parallel” in the first and fourth decades of the twenty-first century, and in the fourth decade of the eighteenth century. Their eventual interaction is neither on the plane of simple historical causality, nor is it a matter of “time travel” as usually understood.

Brasyl was the first novel I’d read in quite a long while that had a glossary at the back. And it was helpful, because of the frequent use of Portuguese in the story. In fact, I sometimes ended up looking for words that weren’t even in the glossary. I don’t feel like really gained a richer appreciation for Brazilian culture from this book, but the setting was densely presented and effective in framing the story.

There is a cinematic feel to the story, and despite an explicit homage to Terry Gilliam’s (“wrong”) Brazil (214), the ideal directors for this one would be the Wachowskis—the book is suffused with their most conspicuous themes, tropes, and concepts, from The Matrix to Cloud Atlas to Sense8.

I enjoyed Brasyl a lot, but it seemed to have only about half of the overall length and primary character populations found in River of Gods or The Dervish House, and I think I preferred the more sprawling feel and longer immersion that those others supplied. (Of those three “New World Order” books, The Dervish House is probably my favorite.) [via]