I am left with a lot of questions after finishing Neon Yang’s The Genesis of Misery. The primary one being, “so what?” Described as a combination of Neon Genesis Evangelion meets retelling of Joan of Arc, I would say that Misery lives up to its promises. Yet, while I think this is an imaginative and strange novel that combines different stories in interesting ways, after finishing I can’t help but wonder what the point of all of it was.
Misery Nomaki is a nobody from a nowhere mining planet who possesses the rare stone-working powers of a saint (someone who can interact with the magical gemlike stones that litter the universe). With almost no preamble, we are thrown into Misery’s head mid-shenanigan and expected to hit the ground running. In almost no time flat, we find Misery at a secret government facility in a mech piloting school and in the cockpit of an otherworldly mecha and fighting a strange mysterious race of telepathic enemies. To top it all off, Misery seems to be possessed by a demon and falling into the role of crusade figurehead for a space church. So there is a lot going on, and not a lot of direction.
The word vomit that is the above description of Misery’s plot nicely encapsulates my biggest issues with the book. This novel feels more like Yang just threw a lot of cool worldbuilding elements into a pile and said “here you go.” Very few of the numerous plot elements introduced in this book are resolved. In fact, after the metric ton of them introduced at the start, we just keep getting more as the book progresses, almost all of which go unsolved. I can’t figure out if this is the start of a series (I pray it is), because if this is standalone please subtract 2 points from my final rating. I feel like I learned nothing while reading this book and instead just read a list of things that happened with no relation.
Flipping to the positives, we do have a few things going for Misery. The titular main character is great, even if her/their story is a bit insular. For about half the book, the only character that’s developed is Misery. For this first section, the supporting cast simply exists as background scenery to make Misery more cool and mysterious. This surprisingly works, and Misery is really cool. Even more surprisingly, the back 50% of the novel then rapidly develops several other bench-warming side chars to be reasonably interesting in their own right. This results in some truly strange pacing choices, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the pacing is bad.
Misery’s greatest strength is in its worldbuilding, which kept my interest while other elements of the story flailed about. There is a sect of magic users in this world called Saints that can interact with tens of kinds of holy stones that all do different interesting things. The mechs that the crews pilot are eldritch in description and unnerving in a very fun way. Yang’s penchant for making cool locations for the pilots to fight is also very fun and I enjoyed the action set pieces a lot as well.
Flipping back to some negatives, the language/prose of the story had some real ups and downs. Yang is really good at building tension in dialogue and making scenes have a great atmosphere, but they picked some really weird naming conventions I did not enjoy. There are some really cool badass quotes and mixing of genre tropes, and some truly terrible analogies and metaphors. The descriptions are very evocative and helped me picture scenes perfectly, and there are some absolutely immersion-shattering colloquialisms thrown in randomly from time to time. In sum, a mixed bag.
While it has a number of positives in its corner, I really struggled to understand the underlying story and argument being presented in The Genesis of Misery. There are cool mechs, badass space rocks, and a protagonist with a holy mission that make it a good time. Yet the book failed to make me care about its story which is a burning problem that eclipses a lot of the good.
Rating: The Genesis of Misery – 4.5/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.