A Thousand Perfect Things - Kay Kenyon

In a world full of trilogies (and longer) a stand-alone novel is a pleasant surprise and there is lots to like about A Thousand Perfect Things.

 

Firstly, its setting: a world very much like our own, in Victorian times, except that the main two countries (Anglica and Bharata) are able to be connected by the Bridge, a massive pontoon structure that means a lengthy march rather than a dangerous expedition by ship allows Anglica to send soldiers and supplies to their 'allies' in Bharata. In Bharata itself, it's a time of upheaval, as princes who rule small territories are forced to make a decision about how to deal with the newcomers and what they will allow (or be forced to allow) them to do.

 

Secondly, the use of magic: Anglica is very much all science, so when magic is used to attack the very centre of government, they are at a loss to deal with it. There's a very clear science-magic divide, with magic being seen as the realm of the uncivilised, with no attempt to understand or appreciate it. Magic in Bharata is a terrible thing, in the basic sense of the word - it's a thing that evokes terror, brought about in a significant part by self-sacrifice, including the shedding of blood and what are described as 'austerities' (for example, starving yourself to power small protective magic on others).

 

The plot of A Thousand Perfect Things is centred on the search for a mythical giant lotus, once seen by our protagonist's grandfather and also now sought by the spiritual advisor of one of these Bharatan princes. Our protagonist (Tori) is a woman in a world made for men; wanting to be a scientist but held back by virtue of her gender, she is desperate to go to Bharata and find the lotus, to prove her grandfather right about its existence and also seeing it as the key to scientific acceptance. The other main character (Mahindra) wants to use it to unite the people of Bharata behind his prince, seeing the presence of people from Anglica as a threat to everything they consider important.

 

This is one of those books which I liked parts of, but which in the whole doesn't quite work for me. We see Tori make a significant change in terms of her views towards Bharata and its people over the course of the book, but then in the end she is happy to throw them over for a man - the man in question, for me at least, signifies everything that she has run away from her entire life and yet suddenly he's what she wants? Hmm.

I also wasn't overly keen on the magical cure for Tori's disability (she has a clubfoot at the beginning of the book), which is used as a way of showing she has been touched by the gods of Bharata. Meanwhile, I actually found Mahindra the more interesting character, especially as he realises partway through that his plans have started to come partly true, but at a terrible cost.