Set in an alternate world in which Google’s place is filled by a company called Grail (a brilliant name for a search engine, by the way), and Wikipedia’s by “Open Britannica,” Robin Sloan’s Annabel Scheme is difficult to categorize. Is it a detective novel? An urban fantasy? A technothriller with a touch of cyberpunk? It’s all of those at once. It reminds me a little of Charles Stross‘s LAUNDRY FILES novels with the mix of high technology and demons.
Annabel Scheme is narrated by an AI in the Watson role, observing events through detective Annabel Scheme’s high-tech earrings. That’s clever, because the point of view follows Scheme and yet isn’t her POV. It also means, though, that the first-person narrator can, when the plot requires it, both go with Scheme and also be separated from her, observing from a distance, just by means of detaching one earring.
I thought briefly that the book was going to consist of a series of loosely linked cases featuring Scheme, but the second part turned out to be closely related to the case apparently resolved in the first part, and quickly escalated to involve someone who had been very important to Scheme in the past (nice raising of the stakes there). The ending, though, I felt had a couple of issues. The lawyer-barista is credited by the AI, Hu, with finding a loophole that saved the day, but I somehow completely missed what that was. He didn’t seem to contribute anything as far as I could tell. Also, the hint dropped by Scheme’s mentor seemed completely obvious to me, but puzzled both Scheme and Hu.
Apart from those weaknesses (and I may just have missed something in the first case), I thought this was very well done. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Sloan, having recently enjoyed his debut novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
After MR PENUMBRA I wondered where this writer had gotten to. This sounds like a lovely romp. Thanks for reviewing it!