I was lent this debut novel by my son and daughter-in-law; it covers, with a very broad canvas, life and death, and rebirth, in a mix of fantasy and science fiction. I very much enjoyed this book, though I will not claim to understanding all of it (whether that is failure on my part, or the author’s, I have no way of knowing).
On a Tuesday, Cooper (living a normal existence in 21st century Manhattan) finds himself someplace different; he awakens to find himself succinctly dismissed as not being what was expected. He finds out that when one dies, one does not go to an afterlife (or lack of one), but finds oneself in a body on another world that might be young or not, male or not – but one is still oneself, with the memories of one’s previous life; the only constant is that, being transferred, one’s scars all are gone, including one’s umbilicus (belly button). This process of dying and being transferred continues until one ends up in the eons-old City Unspoken, which is a massive city, of all architectural styles, where when one dies, one has died the True Death, breaking the cycle of rebirth. The city is thus made up of transferred people on their last go-round, people who have bound themselves to the city (voluntarily or involuntarily; when they die, they are transferred back into the city, in their old bodies), people from other worlds who sell needed goods to the City, anyone born for the first time in the City Unspoken (and thus possessing belly buttons) and various UnDead lichs and fey or part-fey folk.
The people who find Cooper (Sesstri, a researcher and deadly fighter, and Asher, a tall monochromatic man) tell him that they had hoped that he would be the One who could cure what ails the City Unspoken; the nobles of the city are separated from the City by a giant glass dome (no one gets in or out, and thus they no longer run the City), but worse than that, no one in the city can die the True Death, which means the city is filling up with those on their last cycle from all the worlds in the Seven Universes), and that those in the City who cannot die the True Death are going insane or murderously mad. Obviously Cooper is not the One, but Sesstri is deeply puzzled (and does not tell Asher) that when she strip-searched the unconscious Cooper on his arrival, she found that he has a belly button, which he should not have (being transferred into the City Unspoken). Cooper ends up being enmeshed in the politics of the City Unspoken, and in the politics of the Seven Universes.
I did enjoy reading this book, and I understand that the author has planned a four-book series, with the sequel not yet finished. So I will probably be reading the other books in this series in the fullness of time.