Justina Robson

Quantum Gravity, Book 5

Orion (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-575-08565-7

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Down to the Bone is the fifth and final book in the Quantum Gravity series. Readers who have followed the series will find it satisfying, but readers who pick it up without having read any of the other books are likely to think it weak. Down to the Bone follows the earlier novels Keeping it Real, Selling Out, Going Under and Chasing the Dragon, all previously reviewed here. The five books together tell one overarching story, and each instalment is designed to be read as part of the series, not in isolation.

As the novel is opening, ex-spy Lila Black is suffering something of a crisis. She suspects the world will end soon, and isn’t sure what to do about it, or even if she can do anything. Dead people are returning to life, vigilantes are killing the dead and the live indiscriminately as they try to dispose of the returned dead, and the world as a whole seems to be going to hell. Possibly literally. Lila and her husbands have been scarred by the events of earlier novels. Lila herself has evolved into some kind of magical machinery, and no-one, including her makers, seems to know exactly what she is or where her limits lie. Zal, her rock star elf husband, can’t hear music anymore. Teazle, the demon who is her other husband, is busy killing a lot of other demons to regain the status Lila lost for him.

And they all sense danger, and they all know something bad is going to happen. But they don’t know what direction it’s coming from and they don’t know who they can trust. In the shadowy spy agency Lila used to work for, there were one or two people she could trust implicitly. Except now it seems that maybe that was a mistake, too. She’ll have to deal with faery to help save the world, and it’s really not smart to trust anything or anyone from faery.

A very wary Lila has to navigate through a sea of shifting alliances and shifting truths to find a way to save the world.  She’s not entirely sure she wants to save it, but she suspects she’s probably accidentally had a lot to do with causing its imminent demise, which kind of makes the mess her responsibility. And anyway, without a world, where will she live?

A small weakness of this novel – or a strength, depending on the quality of your memory – is how neatly it dovetails in with the rest of the series. As with earlier novels, there is little recapping and the reader has to stay on their toes to remember exactly what’s happening with and to who, and why. This makes for a strong overall story, but can occasionally be a little trying given the complexity of the plot.  It would certainly lose new readers within pages.  On the other hand, if you have a good memory then it can be a relief not to have to read pages recapping events you recall clearly.

The main weakness of this novel for me was Lila’s character. Although sympathetic, she has become a more shadowy figure to me as the series progressed. It was harder to believe in her as a real character; I don’t feel that some of the changes in her over time have been well delineated, and I often found her purposes and feelings muddy and hard to decipher. I acknowledge that some of this is probably deliberate on Robson’s part, and a reflection of the confusing situation in which Lila finds herself. However, it went to such an extent that I wound up finding her unconvincing and someone it was hard to care about. This was a real difficulty given that much of the emotional content of the novel hinges on her.

However, the novel also has many strengths. It’s well written, and not too hard to absorb some quite complex concepts and ideas. It’s often good fun, with flashes of humor.  The action scenes are well written, although there are fewer than in some of the other novels. And importantly, Down to the Bone provides answers to many of the questions raised earlier in the series and will let readers feel they have reached a point where they can leave this world and these characters with a sense of resolution.

Although not a novel for the casual reader, Down to the Bone will provide satisfaction to readers who have followed the entire series. The series overall is strong, and twines a complex plot with sometimes abstract theories around realistic action and interesting characters.  With all the novels now published it would be an easier series to read, as you wouldn’t have to wait between novels and could continue the story while events are fresh in your mind. It is difficult to recommend Down to the Bone as an independent story, but the Quantum Gravity series overall deserves to be read.