My review of the first book of the Noumena series, Axiom's End, can be found on Goodreads here
Read from 10/18/2021 - 11/01/2021
Here's a question that will answer whether or not you'll vibe with Truth of the Divine: how interested are you in reading about very real, human trauma in your sci-fi novel?
Truth of the Divine gets down in the mud, dealing with PTSD, suicidal thoughts, self-loathing, and abandonment, among other things. It can be a downright uncomfortable read, yet I suppose that's why I ended up liking it more than its predecessor. Truth of the Divine is the type of story that you feel in your stomach as much as you do in your mind. This isn't the type of first-contact tale that focuses on the spectacle of the extraterrestrials. Independence Day and Transformers this ain't, and it's largely better for it. There's certainly a bit of that, but this is definitely a more pensive type of story, a story that focuses on the internal. When we do gaze upon the external, it's largely to analyze humans and how we view aliens and the Other in general. I really enjoyed it, as even in more fantastical settings, I appreciate delving into a character's psyche.
I felt the area that Axiom's End missed its mark the most was in its characters. I'm happy to say that, in an amazing about-face, the characters are probably Truth of the Divine's greatest strength. I found them quite compelling this time around. We dive deeper, so I was able to understand who Cora was as a person more. We see what makes her tick in a way that we didn't quite in the first novel. We get more of a sense of what her complicated feelings for Ampersand are. The fusion-bonding that took place at the end of the last book goes a long way in organically evaluating what these two mean to each other.
The biggest addition in terms of character is deuteragonist Kaveh Mazandarani. He's markedly different from Cora, both in terms of personality, career, and station, making the different perspectives feel meaningful. While I didn't trust him at first, he quickly went on to be one of my favorite characters. He has a sweet relationship with one of the other newcomers that feels like a more positive take on Cora and Ampersand's relationship. More importantly, Kaveh's POV is a riot. Cora's voice can be comical, too, but due to Kaveh's personality, Ellis really hit it out of the park with Kaveh's voice, giving much-needed levity to the book. With memes and references galore, it's surprising how tastefully subtle the humor is.
Beyond being funny, Kaveh, Cora, and the book as a whole is relatable in how the situations can be. Kaveh's a good person at heart, but he'll make big mistakes. Cora follows her heart and it lands her in trouble more often than not. The most steamy buildup to a sex scene that I've read led to the dirty deed itself being uncomfortable. In a story dealing so much with emotions and their fallout, I appreciate how nothing is ever quite how it seems, quite how we want it shake out.
Once again, I enjoyed how Ellis weaved conversations of our political climate with the first-contact story. While we were pretty firmly in the Bush era in the first book, the advent of aliens seems to have accelerated and volatilized the political stage. While the book still takes place in 2008, Ellis' setting feels decidedly post-2016. We seem to have skipped the "Hope" era. Going from "Yes, America can!" straight to "Make America Great Again," with a bit of "Country First'' sprinkled in. At least for this reader, it ended up being quite chilling and poignant.
Once again, the pacing is extremely good, making for a kinetic reading experience in which it's hard to put the book down. I kept telling myself "one more chapter...okay, two...how about three?"
While I enjoyed Truth of the Divine, can certainly see why others wouldn't. The story can be quite dour; you're not in the right headspace while reading this, you really risk having a bad time. It's very real and raw; since the act of reading really asks a lot from readers, you risk the book taking more than you can give. It can be the type of "real" that can suck to read if that's not what you're looking for in a book. Some might object to the fact that spectacle is put on the back burner. While there's definitely still some wonder to be had, more often than not we're dealing more with the consequences of the aliens than the aliens themselves. If you're here for the cool monsters doing cool shit, you might leave this book feeling disappointed at best, cheated at worst. Your reception of this book really lives and dies from what you're expecting out of it. Even though I enjoyed the introspection, I do wish it could have been melded with more action sequences — as is, it feels like the introspection comes at the sacrifice of more spectacular scenes and I do feel a bit disappointed at that.
The operative word here being a bit because at the end of the day, I enjoyed my time Truth of the Divine, more than the first book. I thought Axiom's End was just good while I thought this was great. It made me think more and created more enthusiasm than its predecessor. I connected with the characters more, cared when things happened to them more. It's certainly not a perfect book, and I wish it could have excited me more, but with a shocking cliffhanger of an ending, I'm certainly looking forward to the third book much more than I was the second.