Top critical review
Good premise badly executed
Reviewed in the United States on September 3, 2019
I bought this book after reading the outstanding "The City and the City" by the same author, and was greatly disappointed.
The premise could be interesting: Embassytown is a small human settlement on an alien planet. The aliens are very different from us, but seem overall very tolerant of the human presence. The aliens lack abstract reasoning, they can only handle what is real and has happened. So for example they don't point at things because the act of pointing and the thing being pointed at are not the same thing and therefore they can't put the 2 together in a symbolic relationship. Their language is a reflection of their thinking. The human protagonist is a good example of this. She is a figure of speech, "the girl who ate what was given to her", that is the concept of acceptance. But the interesting thing is that when the aliens see her, they see, literally, acceptance incarnate, not a person that exemplifies acceptance. I thought this was an interesting idea, especially in how it influences the interactions between aliens and humans (how do you interact with aliens when they don't see you as a person but as a concept?)
Unfortunately it all went downhill from there. The book is exceptionally boring. Sure the issue of the language is interesting, but the aliens are reduced completely to their language. Any other aspect of their life, for example the fact they are wizards at biotechnology, is only hinted at. The main character is bland and seemingly incapable of meaningful emotions. She says she loves her husband, but I just didn't feel it. At random times she jumps in bed with different people without me feeling what connection, if any, they share.
At some point, the very existence of Embassytown is in jeopardy, but I couldn't bring myself to care about any of it. Nothing really meaningful seemed to go on in that town anyway (mostly parties, it seems), and I felt invested in none of the characters. As the story proceeds, some of the characters die but the fact left me completely cold.
The book picked up some of my interest again near the end (yes, I finished it. It was a slog but I did it) but by that time it was too hard to care about anything.
How did the same author write a tight page turner like "The City and the City" and a meaningless slog like "Embassytown"? Since these are the only 2 books I read from this author, I have to wonder which was the outlier and which is more representative of the author's work?