This book’s greatest strength is its voice. The narrator, Adam Hazzard, tells the reader the story of Julian Comstock. The story is set in America in a future after the end of oil. The president is a dictator whose only real check or balance is the Dominion, a controlling, intolerant Christian church whose power is terrifyingly real. The setting was interesting enough, but it didn’t feel particularly new to me.
Julian is the president’s nephew, and he’s seen as a threat to his uncle’s rule. He spends a few years in the country, where he and Adam meet and become friends. They try to avoid the draft, but end up in the army anyway, where Julian eventually becomes a hero. His uncle give him a command that’s supposed to make him a martyr, and nearly does, except the president is deposed and Julian nominated in his place.
As president, Julian defies the Dominion, then starts falling apart. He spends most of his time working on a movie about the life of Darwin. On the night of the movie’s premiere, the city catches fire. Adam and his family escape to Europe, but Julian stays in the city and burns.
The book feels more like it was written during the civil war than in the future. There are battles and cannons and railroads. The style is reminiscent of an adventure novel from the 1920s, and intentionally so. I think the book accomplishes everything that the author wanted it to. The writing is solid and enjoyable to read. I really enjoyed the first section, which I’d previously read in The Year’s Best Science Fiction from 2006.
But the book itself wasn’t to my taste. I love Edgar Rice Burroughs, but his books aren’t 400 pages long. The book felt like it dragged, and as the story went on I found myself caring less and less about the characters instead of more. By the end, I was glad that it was over.
This is the third Hugo nominee that I’ve read this year, and it really drove home the fact that voice is very important if you want to win awards. Julian Comstock isn’t the sort of book that I’d pull of the shelf, but I’m not sorry that I read it. Overall, I’d give it a 3/5.