Prophecy of the Immortals by Ryan London
A science fiction adventure of staggering proportions, Ryan London’s Prophecy of the Immortals charts the journey of hero Exos Starblood, a human in a multi-species universe who awakes in a desert to find that he has been stripped of all memory. With the aid of a host of sometimes-dangerous and always-charming new acquaintances, Exos soon uncovers a personal history that jettisons him into the heart of a battle for the universe itself and the very souls of its inhabitants, ultimately plunging him into pretty dark thematic territory. London combines the high-tech, interplanetary grandeur of a classic space opera with an expansive saga rich with fantasy undertones to create an accomplished sci-fi epic.
With a number of little twists within its largely straightforward plotting, Exos’s trajectory is almost inexhaustibly intriguing. Prophecy is intellectually wealthy, treading deftly into deep and engaging philosophical territory; Exos’s travels and ruminations are accompanied by an abundance of insightful metaphysics and moments of startling wisdom – despite the tale’s otherworldliness, London’s themes are not without meaningful resonance with the reader and contemporary life on earth (even if these musings are not as integrated into the fabric of the narrative as one might want). Prophecy owes much of its success to London’s clear and fluid writing; there is a solid and literate sense of forward motion always at work. If sometimes stilted and rarely clumsy, the narrative voice is very often poetic, and the descriptions are full of beauty; only occasionally employed awkwardly, London’s use of figurative language is strong and deeply evocative. London’s universe is wonderfully imaginative, teeming with interesting interstellar cultures and traditions, and full of magnificent technologies and celestial formations. Although we may at times feel that some of the imagery, concepts, and dynamics have been seen before, they are nonetheless ceaselessly effective and arresting. The brilliance of Prophecy is at times a double-edged sword: it is unsurprising that, in a universe so detailed and conceptual, certain descriptions of lofty ideas become confusing or feel inconsistent and imbalanced. Likewise, when the character roster contains such a diverse array of compelling creatures – human and alien – it’s not unusual that the reader might feel that certain individuals disappear or become neglected, never to be properly explained or fleshed out. While the fantastic details do add layers of fanciful flavor to the narrative, an overabundance of sci-fi pretentions can seem superfluous and begin to confuse and chafe the reader. Similarly, Prophecy’s formidable scope is both a boon and a curse: the breadth of the novel is breathtaking and allows for a fullness and multi-dimensionality in its narrative, but at times Prophecy can feel overextended, buckling under its own weight and dragging itself along. Most frustrating for this reviewer is the weird subtext dialogue of a male-power agenda that emerges over the course of the novel. London’s sustained – if subdued – gender and sexual dynamics are fundamentally troubled: Prophecy presents a misguided homosocial realm rife with indulgent male fantasy, highlighted by antiquated machismo and the constant sexual evaluation, objectification, and subjugation of females. This is at best narrow and disappointing, and at worst disturbingly misogynistic. A far cry from the likes of Ursula K Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler at the end of the day, Prophecy is nonetheless evidence of a prodigious talent and gives fans of science fiction (or simply a good, solid read) a name to watch out for as London’s sharp storytelling craft is honed.