Pilgrim of the Sky
Candlemark & Gleam
As strange as it may sound coming from someone who reviews books, I haven’t much felt like reading lately. You know how it goes: life happens.
So when I picked up Pilgrim of the Sky, I wasn’t really expecting to like it. I was expecting a book I could pick up and put down at will, when I had a few minutes to kill, but nothing that would keep me eager to read.
I did not get what I expected.
On the very first page, you are pulled into a mystery, one that only gets deeper and more complex the further into the book you get. You arrive in dreary Amherst, Massachusetts in the midst of winter and heartbreak, and travel through worlds both gloomy and bright. Barron waltzes you–at times quite literally–from modern day, to Victorian steampunk, to ancient Greece and Rome, all the way to what feels like the dawn of time. Fascinating and dizzying, it’s a delight to simply keep up with all the twists and turns of the plot.
Maddie Angler, the main character, is ready to move on with her life, ready to leave her dead boyfriend’s family and the memory of him. But then she learns he’s not really dead, he’s just in another world, a world she can get to. Of course, there’s a catch, and it’s not quite so easy as popping over to say hello, and who’s to say he wants to be found? If she does find him, what will she say? Does she even want to find him? And what’s up with all these different worlds?
Barron constructs a complex series of worlds, all connected, overlapping, and yet distinct. Her magic system is not well explained, yet it’s believably written without being too deus ex machina. The characters’ emotional swings feel a bit extreme at time, but even that gets explained. Through it all, we explore the interpretation of religion, art, philosophy, human relationships, trust, and most of all love across time and space.The one criticism I have is that the climax of the story was explained after it was over, and was a bit confusing in the moment; however, Pilgrim of the Sky is not even close to being the only book to use that construct, so I can’t fault the author for that. An explanation in the moment would have slowed it down, so I understand why it was written that way, but it would have been nice to have a few more hints woven throughout the story so that the reader could figure it out along with the character.
All in all, it was an enjoyable read, and would be a good introduction to steampunk for someone who wants to ease in (only one of the eight worlds is steampunk, after all, even if it is the one where the most time is spent). If you enjoyed Mur Lafferty’s Heaven and Hell, wanted to follow Alice Through the Looking Glass, or thought Gaiman’s Anansi Boys could do with a few more corsets and a touch of lace, do yourself a favor and read Pilgrim of the Sky.