"Cyberpunk set in alternate-history North Africa?" says I. "Sounds interesting."
And that was my first mistake.
I was expecting William Gibson crossed with, oh, The Years of Rice and Salt
. What I got was more in the spirit of Dan Brown--an action-adventure with pasted-on Exotic Setting.
I should have known I was reading the wrong book in the first few pages, when it became clear that the protagonists of this supposedly North African-focused novel were both white Americans. (Okay, one is half Berber nobility. He's been raised as a white American and shows exactly zero interest in his Berber heritage.) The native North African characters come in two varieties: pro-Western good guys (the liberated Zara, for example) and traditionalist baddies.
As to cyberpunk: no. Sure, the main character has implants that let him see in the dark, one of the secondary characters is a computer hacker, and one of the tertiary characters has an improbably high-tech sound system that he uses in a drug-ridden techno club. But there's none of the nihilism I'd expect from cyberpunk, no real exploration of the cost of technology, the breakdown of society. It's just there to be glitzy. And our protagonists are rich and high-ranking; what little we get of society's underside is in flashback and side scene, safely out of the way.
Besides, this is alternate history. The power of cyberpunk is its immediacy: "That could be tomorrow. This is already happening today." It's hard to get that in a story of a future that will never be, even if the author does seem to frequently forget their own alternate history premise. (Why does the United Nations exist in a world where Germany won World War I and the U.S. remains intensely isolationist into the 21st century? I have no idea. Why are all the brand names the familiar French and American ones? Who knows. And, whether Germany won World War I or not, how did the Ottoman Empire teeter into the 21st century? No fucking clue.)
That last is the most bothersome: the whole point of the alternate history, as far as I can tell, is so that the author can write in a 21st-century Ottoman Empire. But I remain utterly unconvinced that the history as outlined would result in such a political improbability.
But even if none of this had bothered me--even if I had gone into this expecting, from the start, Dan Brown--I still would have tripped over the language. It's not so much that the author doesn't know what a complete sentence is as that he appears to know--and be on constant vigilance against one appearing in his work. Things are. Broken up more or less at random, producing a. Choppy effect that I think. Is intended to be literary. (It's not a success.)
To add to the pain, the author jumps back and forth in his timeline, piling flashback on flashback in an attempt to make a paper-thin plot appear convoluted.
This is also not a success. Indeed, I'm hard pressed to think of any part of this book that's a success. (Well, there's the sex scenes. They're successful at providing hilarity. But I think this is unintentional.) Highly unrecommended. I will be giving the sequels a wide berth.