This pretty, gorgeous, absolutely irresistible package of a book is so much fun to hold and to have on your shelves. I bought it for the hype and I am 100% satisfied with my purchase. As a book collector, this will live on my shelf forever and look beautiful.
But did I love it??
...No. Sadly. I tried so, so hard to love this novel—but at the end of the day, when you strip the marketing, the blacked out pages, and the mysteriousness of the blurb from consideration... the story itself didn't do much for me.
I've been sitting on this all day, what to say for this review. Because after reading so many other reviews on Goodreads, Instagram, TikTok, you name it.. it seems like it's just me in this corner of hey, it was cool, but it wasn't amazing? I was bored, frankly. And I thought the plot struggled to make itself known between the choppy descriptions of really cool things and the goobledygook name pronunciations.
Not much... happens. I mean, in a very literal sense, the characters move from space to space quite frequently and talk, a LOT, to a lot of people in various settings. But my overall feeling for 80% of this 500 page "prologue" was one of looking at the metaphorical clock, going hey... I'd love for the story to start soon, thanks, and then... at the very, very last page, it felt like we were finally getting somewhere. (I hold a large candle of hope that due to the ending's takeoff, this "prologue" was meant to feel this way and the next volume will not have this issue.)
Reig and Trad are two twins who live in a different realm/reality within an organization known as the Octunnumi. Like a fantastical version of the Men in Black concept ( I am really, REALLY reducing the complexity of this book's premise with this comparison, and I know that, but this is a good likeness if you strip away the excess), the Octunnumi exists but the world of Earth doesn't know they exist. They pop in and out of these portal doors and affect/change/manipulate things in our world and we never, ever know they're there. They interface with magical beings and influence humans' opinions on art, culture, design, and technology.. all from behind the unseen curtain.
In the realm of the Octunnumi, Reig and Trad travel from fantastical section of the realm to fantastical section of the realm like an interdimensional train station/antique store/urban market hybrid that would make an AMAZING visual cornucopia of a movie. The descriptions are lush and the areas of the realm sound awesome. A playground for the imagination in every sense of the word.
But what are Reig and Trad doing, exactly, and what happens in this prologue?
Well, while still avoiding spoilers, let me just say... not much.
There's a plot thread of children, presumed dead from a failed rescue operation ages past, who have been identified as alive. This is the "core" plot of sorts, as Reig and Trad were on the rescue team and never got over this loss - so to find out these children are alive, yet still missing, has spurred the two boys into action to relocate them. The core plot, as much as it can be called such, is the twins moving around the realm talking to people and gathering people/ideas/things together loosely to work toward finding these missing children.
There's also a plot thread of Reig and Trad's old friend, Nicolas, who was forcefully ejected from the Octunnumi around the time of the failed rescue operation and condemned to a life on Earth due to his forbidden love with a girl outside his race. This comes back to bite the Octunnumi organization in the butt when Nicolas arrives on their doorstep many regenerations later (oh, did I mention all of these operatives endlessly regenerate/reincarnate instead of die? Yes, they do. It is unnecessarily confusing) with a mystery of his own and ulterior motives.
And, of course, there are Reig and Trad themselves. They were the most interesting to me at the start, as there was a fair amount of foreshadowing involved regarding a meta Narrator who interacts with the boys directly (the author of this book, self-inserted as their Narrator), some allusions to the some Things that will Happen Soon and other such nuggets. I was intrigued at their history and their future. However, like many other things about this novel, my fascination soon turned to boredom and eventually shifted into flat out exasperation as hundreds of pages flew by and Reig and Trad remained exactly the same. No character development or growth, no insights into their motivations and/or feelings of attachment, and ultimately no sense of what they cared about and/or wanted to happen. Unlike most novels, the main characters you get on page one are the exact same as the ones on the last page.
As you can see from my extremely scattered thoughts and reactions, this was an ultimately polarizing read. I liked elements, I disliked other elements, and ultimately I didn't love it. But am I intrigued enough to see if my dislikes are solved in volume two? Heck yes.
We'll see what happens next.
Compelling and off-kilter, this novel was a very quick read. But I wanted more as a mystery reader?
Mystery elements: ★★
This is another one of those books where I have to preface my review and say "oh hey, it was me again—I thought this book would be something else. Whoops!" That doesn't happen too often these days as I'm getting better and better at figuring out my own reading preferences... but clearly there are still some one-offs that sneak past my radar.
I was looking for a more standard whodunit, complete with a detective, a perpetrator, and a solution. The Falling Woman is more lyrical than that, and less tied to those rules and regulations. This is a novel about humanity, struggle, and what we do when faced with impossibilities.
It's a beautiful novel in it's own way.
At first it's just a rumor. A woman survived a mid-air plane explosion? Impossible. Literally, unbelievable. But the rumor grows, and soon the investigators in charge of explaining the plane crash take a leap into the impossible - maybe the "falling woman" is real. And if so, how exactly did she survive?
Plane crash investigator Charlie Ranford is on the case. Well, he's mostly on the case. Okay, partially on the case. He doesn't exactly want to be on the case, but that's the way it is, alright? (Charlie is a very contradictory, anxiety-ridden personality. It's a little exhausting.)
A reluctant advocate for the "Falling Woman," as she is dubbed by the press, Charlie starts to unpeel the layers from fact and fiction to see if maybe, just maybe, she's a legitimate story. But if she's real... why can't they find her? Why did she go off the grid? Does she not want to reunite with her family? Why?
The Falling Woman unpeels like an complicated wrapping, and as we uncover the motivations and situations that led to Charlie speaking in front of a tribunal about his actions following the crash, we as the reader come to realize that this isn't a mystery about who or what ended the lives of those on the plane. It's a story about humans, and the struggles and realities that we all face when confronted with impossible choices.
Give this one a try if you like novels centered on the complexities of our decisions, humans stuck in hard places, and the ties that connect us all in the end. This isn't a novel with a "who crashed the plane and why ending" and I feel like that's not a bad spoiler to share - because if that's a spoiler to you, then this isn't the right novel to read.
Come for the characters and stay for the characters—it's a fascinating journey.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.