“Dust,” by Elizabeth Bear, is sure to become a classic work of speculative fiction. The premise takes staples of fantasy, such as angels and warring factions of nobility, and situates them brilliantly in a science fiction world of nanomachines and space travel. The result is an entirely original, completely absorbing world populated with a fascinating cast of characters, which includes disembodied AIs, machine-augmented, genetically-modified humans, and a sardonic cutting torch that fancies itself a beast from ancient legend.
Bear's writing is smooth and efficient. She manages to unveil the details of a very complex world without ever making the reader feel lectured. Each character has a unique voice, and since different parts of the book have different protagonists, the varied perspectives give the book variety. The pacing is optimal, never rushed or tedious.
The plot is a mixture of intrigue and adventure that readers will not find lacking. It begins with a strong-willed servant girl being asked to care for a mysterious prisoner who has been captured and mutilated. The prisoner's identity and the nature of the factions who wish to use or destroy her are revealed through the events of the story. Each revelation provides another clue about the true nature of the world the characters occupy and the danger that faces it. The sense of discovery is what makes “Dust” such an enjoyable read, so I won't spoil it with further details.
“Dust” is a must-read for all fans of science fiction, as well as readers of fantasy. Elizabeth Bear is now firmly in place on my mental list of favorite authors, and I am greatly looking forward to reading the sequel, “Chill”.