My rating: 2.3 out of 5
This review has a broad overview of the story, so it may contain some minor spoilers.
In this, we have my most anticipated book of 2017, an authorized sequel to a foundation work of science fiction and one that I'd been waiting impatiently for since it was first announced. Within minutes of the ebook file being loaded onto my Kindle I was into it with great gusto, but after a few chapters my level of enthusiasm had plummeted dramatically. I will say from the get-go that this book seems very well crafted in a technical sense, but Baxter's presentation makes me fearful that he may have made it largely inaccessible to a modern audience. Hopefully during the course of this review we can get to the bottom of why I feel this way.
The story idea is a great one, of course, in that the Martians invaders from the 1898 original novel The War of the Worlds come back to Earth to have another crack. This story begins in 1920 and is effectively an alternate history story with a sci-fi base. The book is stocked with plenty of characters from the original novel and the narrator of this book, Julie Elphinstone, is one of these.
The writer of The War of the Worlds, referred to within this book as "The Narrative", is named as a certain Walter Jenkins and it is his continuing obsession with the Martians and his predictions of their actions which drives this story forward. He commissions Julie to carry out a task for him to try to regain some control in the situation with the invaders. The military hijack her mission and Julie is thrust headlong toward the Martian stronghold.
Much has changed in Britain and Europe after what after the events of the first Martian War, World War One has been fought but the outcome and resulting political landscape are very different. Britain is ruled by a corrupt military government in cahoots with Germany, who now control most of Europe. Some technology has been gleaned from the remnants of the Martians and this has been pressed into service in the form of mechanized weapons and there is a whole industry trying to harness the power of the atom.
Along the way much is revealed of the Martian plans for their mission here on Earth. Also revealed are some other extraterrestrial species and these play various roles in the story. I must admit that this is an enjoyable element to the story that I didn't expect. Also enjoyable is the cool post-steampunk feel in places, like huge Zeppelins and massive armored land-ships. The Martians eventually land on other parts of our planet as well and expand their assault. For much of the book the story jumps between Julie's first-person account and various other third-person accounts from these other places.
The pace does pick up noticeably in the second half which is just as well because the first half is (I thought) annoyingly slow. Coupled with this, Baxter uses a language style which would be appropriate if it were written during the period in which is is set, but there is a large amount of time spent with needless descriptions of the scenes and the things in them. Maybe the author felt this old-school stuff necessary in order to achieve the desired period feel but it makes it really drag and I soon found it quite a chore to read. I can see a lot of people giving up on this part way through, which I nearly did a couple of times.
What kept me going was my desire to finish it, to see what happens at the end. Most of all, I really wanted to write a glowing review of this massively anticipated novel but, sadly, that isn't to be. If I'm really honest with you, I should've given up because I don't think that the conclusion of the story offered anything all that rewarding. It was okay in a thematic sense, but it wound down rather anticlimactically and left me feeling quite flat. The way is left open for continuation, there being a number of loose ends left dangling but, if there is, I don't think I will be leaping up to read it, not if it's anything like this book.
I'm certain that Mr. Baxter put a lot of hard work into this book but I don't think that he or the publisher got this one right at all. That is only my opinion, of course, but it's not often that I feel as disappointed with a book as I have with this one.
4/5 for concept
1/5 for delivery
2/5 for entertainment