Book Review: Driftwood by Marie Brennan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Paperback: Tachyon Publications | Audiobook: Tantor (August 14, 2020)
Length: PB: 240 pages | Audio: 5 hrs and 34 mins
Welcome to Driftwood. It’s a place where worlds go to die. When a world approaches the end of its lifespan, they are enveloped by the Mist, where they will slowly fade away to nothing as they are gradually pulled towards a central zone called the Crush. But while this is happening, neighboring worlds are also experiencing the same slow creep towards oblivion, and so are brought together in a clash of cultures and geographies.
In the middle of all this is a character called Last, known for being Driftwood’s most enduring survivor, who saw his own world disappear a long time ago. People like to gather around and tell stories about him, for his reputation is legendary. Some say he is immortal; others desperately seek his guidance or try to learn his secrets and follow in his footsteps.
And thus, we have the book Driftwood, a collection of these tales, all linked together by the remarkable figure named Last. At the same time though, it’s not your typical anthology, as evidenced by the strange setting, the subject matter. Each story comes from a different viewpoint and reveals one of many faces of Last, whom we come to realize is a complicated character.
As a huge fan of Marie Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent series, I’ll read anything this amazing lady writes. Needless to say though, Driftwood is a completely different beast. You won’t be getting a linear or focused narrative here, as there’s absolutely nothing conventional about it, with its abstract premise and complex themes. The individual tales are more like short vignettes connected to each other by only a few tenuous threads, with little rhyme or rhythm to them otherwise. And because of its nontraditional format, there is an overall feeling of disjointedness.
I’ll admit, while these types of books aren’t typically my cup of tea, there’s just something so artful and charming about this one that I just couldn’t help but be drawn in. Granted, I think knowing the storytelling style beforehand helped a lot, as I was braced for a weird and possibility confusing read. As it turned out, I liked Driftwood more than I expected, and much of it has to do with the breathtaking world Brennan has created. Driftwood the world as a concept is an achievement of creativity and challenges the imagination. The notion is expansive, but at the same time easy to visualize and understand. Against the odds, I found myself enjoying the hodge-podge feel of multiple worlds and peoples colliding, co-existing.
Of course, the gorgeous writing didn’t hurt. Brennan takes difficult concepts, presents them clearly and concisely, and has time to ponder some significant questions about social malaise, belief systems, and the inevitability of fate besides.
My only complaint? This probably won’t be too surprising, but at a mere 240 pages, there simply was not enough room to capture the entire book’s potential, especially given its fragmented structure. Furthermore, not all the tales are created equal, and some of the transitions are jarring. The world of Driftwood is an odd place and to a great extent you are expected to go with the flow, and so if you are the kind of readers to expect explanations and answers, you are likely to be left unsatisfied.
As you can probably tell, in the end I’m of two minds about Driftwood. On the one hand I probably would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it had been more to my tastes, but I was also pleasantly surprised at how readable it was, not to mention how quickly I took to it considering the lack of a traditional plot structure, central characters or a clear focus. I only wish there had been a little more “oomph” to some of the vignettes, a little more reason to care about the people and their stories. Nevertheless, Marie Brennan has created something special here, and it’s worth reading if you don’t mind trying something different.