Book Review: A Man of Shadows

A Man of Shadows
By Jeff Noon

My Edition:
E-book, 352 pages
2017, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857666703 (paperback)

In Dayzone, the night never comes and lights burn bright and hot at all times. The other side of the coin is Nocturna, home of permanent darkness and man-made constellations. A killer called Quicksilver is terrorizing residents of both zones, killing faster than the eye can see. Down-on-his-luck detective, John Nyquist, finds himself caught up in the mystery of Quicksilver when his case to find a missing girl leads him to the shadowy, dangerous realm of Dusk.

I don’t know how to describe this book because I feel there are two potential stories here and the way they were blended together left me confused and a little underwhelmed.

My main issue with this book stems from the feeling that there were two different worlds, or, I don’t know, major story elements maybe, that belonged in two different books. There is one world with the cities of Dayzone, Nocturna and Dusk (that apparently reside in a seemingly normal world that has a regular 24-hour day/night cycle) and another world where everyone can live in their own time stream.

I found the concept of a city of constant day and one of constant night (and the mysterious, ghostly realm of Dusk) an interesting one and I wanted to know more about how these cities came to be. Many residents of Dayzone seem borderline obsessed with the endless light and heat – as much as I love the sun and being warm, I don’t think I could handle it all day every day. I wouldn’t care to live in the dark either and the city of Dusk is unknown to many. These three cities blended together to create an excellent setting for a sci-fi novel.

Then the different time zones come crashing in and wreck everything. There was nothing in the book’s description that led me to believe there would also be timey-wimey details to mess with my head. People can buy different time streams/zones to live in and somehow switch between them whenever they want? And different companies or sections of the cities run on their own time zones? And there are even time crashes (like stock market crashes maybe? Idfk.) that can drive people insane. What drove me insane was not knowing how any of that worked. Nyquist was constantly changing his watch to match whatever time of whatever building he was in (or whatever) and I didn’t see why any time matters if you can just constantly adjust your watch (or whatever!)

The mixture of the day and night zones and the endless switching of times gave this book a dreamlike feel. Sometimes that works for me, but in this case it didn’t. I was incredibly confused. Near the halfway point I decided to glaze over any details regarding the switching of times or Nyquist’s confusion about what time it was (which was pretty much constant – I mean, how could anyone function like that? Why have time at all!?) so I could focus on the mystery aspect.

That didn’t do much for me either. Nyquist is your typical alcoholic, down-on-his-luck, divorced detective who gets in over his head. I normally don’t mind that cliché if the character has some substance but Nyquist fell flat for me. None of the other characters really made an impression on me and when the convoluted ending came along I was so over everything.

I don’t actually understand what happened in the end or how the story was resolved and I really don’t care. This book was a disappointment – I thought I’d be instantly in love (a la The Punch Escrow) and I wasn’t even eventually in love. I hate to say it, but I almost think this would be better as a movie – shortened and simplified a bit. I wonder what it would be like if the different timelines had been left out and the focus kept on the two cities…alas, I’ll never know.

If you’re a fan of sci-fi that focuses on time and detective novels, you might enjoy this. Maybe you’ll understand it a hell of a lot better than I did!

I received this book for free from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
*cover image from Amazon

2 thoughts on “Book Review: A Man of Shadows

  1. The concept of the three zones does sound intriguing, but the timezones don’t, as you say, make sense. Isn’t the point of counting time to ensure that people are all on the same page? What is the point of being in one timezone at home, another at work, and a third when you want to go out to lunch? It would just be annoying.

    • Yes I don’t understand how anyone would function with anyone else because you’d never be able to meet up or be to work “on time”. It was poorly explained and really confusing. Had it been left out completely I think this would be a very different book.

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