In a bad design choice, American edition of Rjurik Davidson's debut novel "Unwrapped Sky" prominently features a minotaur on its cover. There's nothing wrong with minotaurs as such and they certainly play a part in the story but the issue I have with the cover in question in that it sends a completely wrong impression about "Unwrapped Sky". In my opinion, Davidson's debut is completely removed from what you would usually expect from your bog standard high fantasy and instead occupies that undefinable place in literary fantasy that's more interested in the voyage than the quest. It is the kind of book that is, for the lack of better classification, often described as new weird or magical realism. You know the kind I'm talking about. China Mieville and Bulgakov instantly come to my mind as reference points. Even though Davidson is still not up to their level of craft, his poetic prose clearly shows that he has plenty of potential.
"Unwrapped Sky" revolves around Caeli-Amur, an ancient city on the brink of irreversible change. The governing power is continuously shifting between houses who between them control the livelihood of its citizens. They're House Technis who attract industrial workers, Hourse Arbor with farmers and House Marin with fishermen. The streets of Caeli-Amur are filled of intrigues and as we're introduced to Kata, n philosopher-assassin, she's in the middle of her latest scheme, getting rid of two minotaurs. Similar can be said about bureaucrat Boris Autec who is working for House Technis and whose ruthless rise through the ranks severely affects his private life and for Maximilan, a thaumaturgist scholar and a revolutionary who spends his life researching secrets of Great Library of Caeli Enas. As the Festival of the Sun is approaching minotaur are arriving to the city as well as an endless stream of refugees and mutants. All these are heralds of an inevitable change. Now it is only a matter of figuring out where the pendulum will drop.
What made "Unwrapped Sky" instantly appealing to me is its strangeness. It is not often that you feel like you are reading something completely new and unique and this was definitely one of those increasingly rare cases. It's just bizarre but never in a way that pushed me away. Over the course of the story Davidson manages to control the amount of weird and knows when and how to stop. I was surprised by how much I've enjoyed this grim and poetic tale and I'm already looking forward to the sequel despite that being the biggest issue I had with it. At the end it is rather open ended. And yes, UK edition got their cover right with their atmospheric depiction of deep waters. It is much more indicative of the book - there's much more under the surface of "Unwrapped Sky" than it is evident at first glance.
Review copy provided by Pan / Tor UK.
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