Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her books from the annual Sirens reading list. You can find all of her Sirens Book Club reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!
Not too long ago, a friend told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had selected Justina Robson’s least accessible work for this book club. “But,” I cried, full of woe, “It’s about the god of love! Living next door to the god of love!” She was unmoved.
And so, with no small amount of trepidation, I began Living Next Door to the God of Love.
And many, many days later, with no small amount of confusion, I finished Living Next Door to the God of Love.
Things started out so well. Robson’s first chapter is killer: so smart and fast that it’s almost a dare. It’s dangerous, complicated, bleeding-edge speculative fiction, with a main character who is instantly fascinating and stakes that are instantly apparent. It pulls you in, sucks you down, and makes you think, “Wait, what the hell is happening?!”
I loved that first chapter. I loved that first chapter more than anything else I have read this year.
It was the second chapter where the wheels started to wobble.
In the first chapter, I was blissfully unaware. First chapters always let me live in a beautiful utopia where the book will only ever have a single point-of-view character – and will have to convince me to care about only a single point-of-view character. When a book adds more point-of-view characters, I often end up not caring about any of them.
The second chapter of Living Next Door to the God of Love introduces a second point-of-view character. A third shows up not long after. And then more. They are all (maybe almost all) in the first person.
And that is only the beginning.
This book has stories to spare. There’s a lot of plot – and subplot upon subplot. It’s a complicated, complex endeavor, for both author and reader. If you like a good rabbit hole, Robson has them in spades.
Robson’s world-building is a tour de force, several times over. But that same world-building is frequently rough on the reader, with sudden scenery shifts and incomprehensible tech.
Then there’s the jargon. Robson is quite happy to make a noun proper with no explanation. Sometimes that works – sometimes the meaning is intuitive or the context is sufficient – but often, it leaves the reader floundering, trying to figure out a key component of a sentence or plot point without enough guidance. As I understand it, much of this stuff (fellow readers will get the inexcusable pun) is explained in another book – Natural History – that is not a prequel, but should apparently be a prerequisite.
Despite – and sometimes because of – all that, there are lots of things to like about Living Next Door to the God of Love: A killer opening. Unbelievably skillful, detailed world-building. Writing that is both rich and careful. Fully realized characters. Universe-level themes of love and humanity and society.
So, for those of you who are interested: Living Next Door to the God of Love takes place in multiple worlds, all of them impossibly different. Jalaeka, the current incarnation of the god of love, has been many things, each stranger than the last, but what they need to be now is something that can fight a creator of worlds. Francine, a runaway, is looking for love, one might say, in all the wrong places. And as you might expect, gods are about to collide. BOOM.
Also, trigger warning for rape and violence.
Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling content distribution and intellectual property transactions for an entertainment company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and six years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.