The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox has a lot going on in it, but too little of it, unfortunately for me, captured my interest or attention and so I ended up giving up about 40% of the way through.

Taryn Cornick’s sister died years ago after being struck by a car — apparently purposely, though it’s unclear. Now, with the driver soon to be getting out of prison, Taryn meets a strangely compelling hunter known as The Muleskinner, who offers up a tempting proposal that will change Taryn’s life as much as her sister’s death. Soon, Taryn finds herself being haunted by threatening phone calls, hounded by a relentlessly inquisitive policeman, caught up in an investigation by (maybe) MI5, possessed by a demon, conversing with faerie and gods, and traveling between our world and other ones. And, as noted, that’s all before the halfway point.

Which is, also as noted, about as far as I got. While I liked a lot of the concepts in the novel, and a few of the set scenes, I was never caught up in either plot or character. I often had the sense characters were not acting as actual people would in the given situations and instead were acting as characters in a novel needed to act. I never felt engaged by them, as they seemed more crafted than alive. This was a running issue for me and had a cumulative effect so that it became harder and harder for me to enjoy the novel as it continued. Style acted as a barrier as well due to Knox’s abundance of detail. At times it’s effective and lovely, but just as often I felt I was getting detail that didn’t further either plot or characterization and so for me simply slowed the story down unnecessarily, making the novel feel all of its 600+ pages and more. Finally, the plot often felt muddy (as opposed to complex).

There are definite talent and craft here, but for me at least, they didn’t combine to create an interesting story or compelling characters.

Published in February 2021. The epic fantasy that’s taking the world by storm–a bewitching story about a revenge killing, a mysterious scroll box that has survived centuries of fires, and the book that changed everything. “Intricately plotted and gorgeously written, The Absolute Book is a cinematic tale that is by turns dark and dreamlike, yet ultimately hopeful.” –Deborah Harkness, New York Times bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches. Taryn Cornick believes that the past–her sister’s violent death, and her own ill-conceived revenge — is behind her, and she can get on with her life. She has written a successful book about the things that threaten libraries: insects, damp, light, fire, carelessness and uncaring . . . but not all of the attention it brings her is good. A policeman, Jacob Berger, questions her about a cold case. Then there are questions about a fire in the library at her grandparents’ house and an ancient scroll box known as the Firestarter, as well as threatening phone calls and a mysterious illness. Finally a shadowy young man named Shift appears, forcing Taryn and Jacob toward a reckoning felt in more than one world. The Absolute Book is epic, action-packed fantasy in which hidden treasures are recovered, wicked things resurface, birds can talk, and dead sisters are a living force. It is a book of journeys and returns, from contemporary England to Auckland, New Zealand; from a magical fairyland to Purgatory. Above all, it is a declaration of love for stories and the ways in which they shape our worlds and create gods out of mortals.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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