Although it is amusing hearing references to some of the outdated technology (the advance ETs communicate through cutting edge teletype machines!), those are only minor quibbles in a very unique and interesting story. The arrival of a far more powerful and intelligent extraterrestrial race is handled in a way I have never heard before. It was refreshing for an advance species to arrive, bring peace on Earth, and... not secretly be waiting to eat us all, but honestly helping us!
Having the story play out over generations also conveys the massive impact and societal change this has in a believable and well explored manner. You know they are thinking long term when they say more or less, "We need to wait until only those born after our arrival are around to reveal that." I could definitely see a lot of other stories told in the generations that this novel covers.
The only thing holding it back in my mind is that the main thrust of the story that leads to a very dramatic conclusion kind of came out of nowhere for me. Even a hint earlier than half way through might have helped. It didn't ruin it for me, but given the world the first half sets up, there was a definite point that stretched my suspension of disbelief beyond what I expected. But the story was fascinating enough that I just went with it and was glad I did. That shift was pretty jarring at first, however. If you can't roll with it, then I imagine the ending has got to be a disappointing "What the-?!"
The narration is very good, but compared to some of the amazing narration some stories have on Audible, it's not to that level. So if I can only give 5 stars to those, this has to settle for 4. Some narrations are so great, that they really enhance the story. This narration is one of those that instead manages to nicely get out of the way and let the story speak for itself.
It was interesting listening to this after having seen the movie years ago. I remembered enough of the movie to know the Secrets but not enough that I could anticipate details or make comparisons. However, there are massive differences between the book and the movie anyway. It's too bad that this is one of those rare cases where the movie is far better than the story, and not even as much in the plot as in the execution of storytelling.
The story is told through a series of journals, and Simon Vance does a nice job of differentiating the voices (even aging the voices of individual characters as necessary). As is often the case, trying to sound female or like a child is a bit of a stretch, but Vance manages it clearly yet smooth enough that it is not distracting.
Alfred Borden's journal is easily the best writing in the story. Knowing the Secret also made it really fun to see exactly where Priest was playing with the reader's expectations. I absolutely loved that section of the book! That section is very well crafted and some of my favorite writing in a while.
Unfortunately, it was all down hill from there. One of the mantras of writing is "Show don't tell", but Priest is over the top in "telling not showing" several times. Major reveals are conveyed second hand in very anti-climatic ways. Technically, it is even third hand or in one situation fourth hand as the journal writer tells us what the reporter told him that a lady told him. It could have been subtle playing with unreliable narrators, testimonial knowledge, and more subterfuge, but in reality, it isn't. It just comes across as flat and uninteresting.
I keep coming back to the word "anti-climatic" but that really sums it up for me. For example, the structure of one major Secret's reveal (hoping to keep this vague enough and metaphorical enough not to spoil anything), is like a magician performing a card trick. You figure out the card was up his sleeve and the trick is actually pretty easy. But then someone says "I checked his sleeve and didn't see the card!" So you are curious again about the trick, until that person says "Oh wait, I didn't look close enough. Yeah, there was a card in his sleeve. Never mind, you were right." The suspense and reveal are far too bland, and with a book about magicians and their secrets, the reveals are important. A clear warning sign is the fact that Priest needs to have his characters constantly remind us that this is mysterious and inexplicable. "Sure, we already have an explanation that eventually turns out true, but no, really, you don't understand it really is WAY mysterious." Again, telling us it is mysterious is far less interesting than showing us.
Also, this may be more of a pet peeve of mine, but really all of the characters except one are very unsympathetic to the point of you not really feeling bad when things go wrong for them. The only character that is remotely sympathetic is Kate, but she's barely in the book, has little personality, and no real story to her other than a mystery that she of course tells us is VERY mysterious, but given that we start the book with the theme of possibly duplicate people and every single storyline involves that theme, again the mystery falls pretty flat.
There is so much I didn't like about this story that it's sad considering that I REALLY enjoyed the first third or so and would easily give that 5 stars. It really is very well crafted. Unfortunately, the rest just doesn't work for me and comes across as a whole series of bad choices by Priest and rather poorly crafted storytelling. Perhaps Priest is really two brothers and one began the story and the other finished it. Too bad one is a great writer and the other not so much.
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