Newland offers a brilliant remix of history, removing certain disasters while refusing to make a panacea of a world without white supremacy. African cosmologies dominate, race isn’t an operative concept, and yet there is a good deal of oppression and stratification in his version of London. And though the reader is cast into an unfamiliar realm, there is a familiar question facing Markriss, an upwardly mobile person from a disfavoured place: ought one cast one’s lot with the less fortunate and threaten one’s own uncertain position, or is it better to ascend as far as possible?
For every physical gate here is also a spiritual gate, and movement from one zone of Dinium to another is also a spiritual journey — either heavenward or hellbound; it’s not all that clear. I wish A River Called Time was half as good as my precis of it. We’d be looking at another China Miéville. But Newland’s prose is (like Miéville’s at his worst) a clotted horror; this is one of those exasperating books in which things seem to almost happen.
In this mightily impressive addition to the growing canon of Afro-futurism, we’re in a post-apocalyptic London where colonialism never happened and Egyptian mythology forms the spiritual framework...
As we move in and out of dream states and versions of reality, the result is an extraordinary — baffling at times, I’ll admit — exploration of history, identity and time.