Paperback: 432 pages
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Source: review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Where once there were 12 metropolises, now only 4 remain, and their borders are being threatened by the growing cloud of darkness.
The only way to hold back the darkness and the horrific creatures that inhabit it are the cities huge ice canons. But one by one the defenses are failing. And the Roil continues to grow. With the land in chaos, it’s up to a drug addict, an old man and a woman intent on revenge to try to save their city–and the world.
I would describe Roil as being equal parts steampunk sci-fi and fantasy adventure (minus the Victorian era garb & stuffiness). The story takes place in a wildly imaginative world filled with massive industrial cities, cut-throat politics, and a vast array of creatures both monstrous & fascinating.
The thing I loved about this book and which I thought was its strongest quality was the creative & robust world-building. It made me wish that I was a much better artist than I am, so that I could sketch out the captivating scenery so painstakingly described throughout the book. I also enjoyed the technology that was put on display and which actually played a role in the story. Too often in steampunk-infused fiction, the tech is simply used as ornamentation—bells & whistles without much purpose or functionality. In Roil, the tech, which included endothermic weaponry, semi-organic aircrafts, and colossal steam-operated trains & vessels, took center stage right alongside the characters that continuously relied upon it.
Moreover, I appreciated the assortment of unique characters and the unusual, slightly ragtag team of heroes. I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for unconventional protagonists who are rough around the edges and who start off without a single heroic bone in their body, but then end up doing heroic things much to their own surprise. And our three main protagonists (Margaret, David, and Cadell) definitely fit that bill.
Unfortunately, there were certain aspects of the book that did not appeal to me. My first complaint is based mostly on personal preference and that is the use of multiple character perspectives. I tend to be partial to stories told from a single character’s point-of-view. If done well (with clearly distinguishable voices), I will also enjoy dual points-of-view. However, if a book has more than two perspectives, I tend to find it distracting and at times even confusing. Roil incorporates multiple different perspectives of both major and minor characters. I could understand the purpose of this—a way to bolster & compliment the sprawling magnitude of the story and fantasy world—but I didn’t really like it. My dislike was compounded by the fact that I felt the transitions between those perspectives were often done too abruptly and not always very cohesively. Consequently, on several occasions, I found myself suddenly detached from the story and a bit disoriented.
Another complaint rests with Roil’s three main characters. Even though I found them interesting in their imperfections (and in Cadell's case, secrets), I never really connected with them emotionally. Surprisingly, I found them underdeveloped and rather two-dimensional, especially in the first half of the book before they started to fully interact with one another. I felt that more time & care was spent on developing the world of Roil than fleshing out the characters.
Finally, I thought the pacing was a bit uneven. The first half of the book was rather sluggish with a few bursts of action accompanied by lots of traveling between locations and talking without clear explanation. The second half of the book, on the other hand, was fast-paced and action-packed up until the very last page with quite a few entertaining twists & revelations.