Review: Neveryóna: Or: The Tale of Signs and Cities
Neveryóna: Or: The Tale of Signs and Cities by Samuel R. Delany
Parts of this book are complete genius. The scene where the Liberator leads Pryn through the city market and narrates it all as he goes while Pryn observes what happens and it feels like they are in two separate cities at once? Genius. There are bits like that all over. Singular scenes, character sketches, perspective reversals that knock you flat. The uncomfortable and incisive depictions of slavery, and what it might be like to really travel as a woman in a sword and sorcery world are key thematic strengths.
But there are also long sections where characters narrate Derrida exegeses or simplified Marxism for pages and some dreadfully repetitive dialogue. I can see this stuff is trying to make a point (perhaps that these people are tiresome), and I just long for more economy in the way the point is made. I think the book might also be making fun of the kind of just-so stories you find in sword and sorcery by instead replacing them with just-so stories lifted from critical theory, lifted without transforming them much at all. I can't tell though.
The biggest problem I have though is the weak narrative. The book drags at points, hangs together a series of vignettes that don't seem to come together even though it's supposedly all about one character in a continuous story. It ultimately sets up some incomprehensible situations which don't seem to come to a point leaving me as a reader just as confused as our naive main character. Tales of Nevèrÿon, with multiple separate tales about different characters held together better, and did more to transform the key ideas both books lift from Derrida about the nature of language and the concept of difference.
It's an interesting experiment, and really fun in places. I'm glad I read it but I couldn't recommend it wholeheartedly, unless you're really interested in experimental sword and sorcery.
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