The Knave of Glass – ‘Jack Glass’ by Adam Roberts

Many moons ago I read only books set in made-up lands. There had to be swords and magic; funny names and green skin were also welcome. I tried to branch out; funny names and green skins, now on made up planets. But spaceships and laser guns didn’t do it for me. To be honest I found them a bit silly.

One day all that changed. I read Ursula le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’. Here was something I hadn’t encountered before; a book that was more than just setting and action. Fiction that was less about the science and more about, well, real life. It was the first time I noticed science fiction being used as a lens to examine our world. Reading ‘Jack Glass’ reminded me of reading Le Guin for the first time. The books are nothing alike in style or story, but for depth and quality they match perfectly.

Adam Roberts is an author I have been aware of for a long time, yet never managed to read. Each time he published a book I’d look at it, think ‘that looks really interesting’ and then put it back down again. The notable exception to this isYellow Blue Tibia, because frankly, if anybody has the chutzpah to use that as a title, their book deserves to be read. Yet despite enjoying YBT, I still hadn’t read another Roberts book. Until now. The premise of this book and its gorgeous cover (one of the finest I’ve ever seen) catapulted ‘Jack Glass’ up my ever increasing to-be-read pile.

From from start to finish ‘Jack Glass’ is a joy to read. It is, in essence, a whodunit in three acts. Set in space. The plot is wonderful; strong, plausible and rich in scientific speculation. There are any number of twists and misdirections, none of which feel forced or false. Roberts’ prose is evocative and playful. His descriptions of setting, character and emotion are pitch perfect. Characterisation is strong; Jack Glass – mass murderer, is a delighfully erudite antihero, sure to become a fan’s favourite.

All this would be enough to recommend the book, yet there is more. The story unfolds against a backdrop of tyranny. The solar system is run by a hierarchy of oligarchs. Power and profit are put above all else. The most expendable resource in the solar system? People. In what is thinly veiled analogy of global big business, Roberts uses his novel to dissect consumerism and how those in power stack the deck to protect themselves. In Roberts’ novel there is a huge underclass. Their plight forms a serious counterpoint to the lighter nature of his sci-fi/crime mash up.

‘Jack Glass’ is a delight from beginning to end. It contains three intertwined locked room mysteries, which, combined with some elegant science, create a series of puzzles that can’t help but intrigue inquisitive readers. Roberts’ solutions don’t disappoint and combining this with a strong social and moral examination of corporate power, he has written an entertaining novel that delivers on every level. Roberts is one of contemporary science fiction’s preeminent writers, and this book sees him at the top his game. A classic in waiting.

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