REVIEW: Kay Kenyon’s The Entire and The Rose (Books 1 – 4)
REVIEW SUMMARY: An undeniable triumph of world building, Kay Kenyon’s The Entire and The Rose is a science fantasy tale of two worlds worth exploring despite the gradual pace dictated by occasional prose problems.
MY RATING: See individual reviews below.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Former pilot Titus Quinn returns the universe he left behind seeking the fate of his wife and daughter. However, once he returns he discovers the two universes (Earth’s Rose and the alien Entire) may not be able to coexist peacefully. Quinn must decide which universe he calls home and the lengths to which he is willing to go to protect his family and that home.
PROS: Absolutely unique world-building that combines science fiction and fantasy elements and continues to grow throughout the entire series; Carefully plotted narrative that spans and evolves over four volumes; The world is exceptionally well integrated into the narrative rather than being adjacent to it.
CONS: Early volumes have problems with jarring perspective changes; Worldbuilding often uses infodumping rather than in-narrative elements; The story isn’t well segmented into individual novels, leaving readers with an all-or-none decision.
BOTTOM LINE: The Entire and The Rose is worth reading for the world building alone but be prepared to invest enough time to read all four books and get the complete narrative.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Rarely is this truer than in Kay Kenyon’s science fiction/fantasy hybrid quadrilogy. An undeniable triumph of world building split into four books, The Entire and the Rose is 1700 pages of complex characters and intricate narrative. The events of the series revolve around Titus Quinn, the first denizen of the Rose (our universe) to cross through into The Entire, a complex infinite world constructed by the harsh, alien Tarig and inhabited by a number of races of their creation. Several years before the series begins, Quinn and his wife and daughter were pulled into the Entire when the ship he was piloting broke apart mid-wormhole jump. Quinn returns months later in our time with no family and little recollection of what happened despite living in the Entire for over a decade. When science proves that his ravings about a second reality may in fact be true, Quinn returns to the Entire in search of his missing wife and daughter and to explore what, if any, benefit The Entire may offer Earth. As Quinn quickly becomes embroiled in the politics of the world he left behind, it becomes obvious that much more is at stake than the fate of his family. The plot only gets more complex from there, the majority of which takes place in the profoundly strange world of the Entire, although the story does take place in both universes.
To provide any more detail than that would ruin the game-changing revelations that occur frequently throughout the series, shifting plots and loyalties in unexpected but exciting ways. There are several power players on both sides of the divide and rarely is there any way of knowing who is playing who. If the Earth universe is referred to as the Rose, the other universe labeled as the Entire might be better known as the Onion. From the start of the series to the final pages, Kenyon slowly peels back layer after layer of world building, unveiling an amazingly concocted world. Religion, politics, cultural divides, a forever war, teenage cults, complex transit systems: the facets of the Entire go on and on. Kenyon details aspect after aspect of her created universe and she does an unbelievable job of unobtrusively bringing the elements she has previously cultivated back into the main plot.
It’s a rare occurence but if anything there is almost too much world building. The Entire is inhabited by a number of races and species all of which are fairly unique when compared to the genre standards. However, a few of these races are almost superfluous, with not a single primary or secondary character coming from their ranks. Kenyon could have either edited them out or integrated them into the story as well as she did the primary species of Humans, Chalin, Tarig, Inyx, Hirrin, and Paion. The cultural depth of these imagined races is continually capitalized upon by Kenyon and as a result the few species that don’t get starring roles ultimately fall to the wayside.
While the extraneous elements could have been handled better, the world of the Entire and the thoroughly constructed characters that inhabit it are the main attractions of the series. Kenyon’s writing, on the other hand, leaves a little bit to be desired especially in the early volumes. Kenyon writes from an extremely tight third person perspective and she has an unfortunate tendency to jump perspectives mid-scene without warning, generating confusion and necessitating rereading just to confirm which character was thinking what. Kenyon gets better at this as the books go on but early on these jarring transitions occur disappointingly often especially considering a small change symbol (which is often used to switch perspectives between scenes) could have easily been used to remedy this problem. As the books progress, Kenyon does manage to reduce the frequency with which these occur. The third and fourth volumes are much stronger than the first in this regard.
Kenyon also has a propensity to take a “tell not show” approach to her worldbuilding and while the world is interesting enough, there is no in-narrative reason for the characters to lecture the way they do. Consequently, the books of The Entire and The Rose read somewhat slowly. While not a bad thing in and of itself, these are not necessarily beach reads and due to the complex nature of the world and plot, it should be read in its entirety for full effect, commanding a significant time investment on the part of the reader.
Additionally, it is important to bear in mind that this epic series would be best described as science fantasy. While Kenyon maintains the premise that all of the places and structures of her world are science-based, the science satisfies Clarke’s axiom and is indistinguishable from magic. Anyone who goes into this series expecting to understand the physics underpinning the world will be sorely disappointed. Despite the trappings of science that frame the Entire, at its core it’s a fantasy world; it exists and behaves the way it does because the story dictates the way it does. But it works and it works well.
Here are individual reviews of each of the four volumes in the series.
Arguably the weakest book in the series, Kenyon’s series debut suffers from exposition overload. Kenyon essentially sets up the story three times; first in the future Earth universe, than in the future Entire world, and then revealing Quinn’s backstory and what occurred during his first trip to the Entire. With three full histories to explain in additional to all of the characters she introduces, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot happens. The last fifty or so pages feel rushed when compared to the whole and while the end of the book comes at a natural stopping point it doesn’t really resolve any of the threads introduced. With such a To-Be-Continued ending, it produces contradictory emotions – on one hand there was too little payoff after the slower prose associated with complex world building; on the other hand, A World Too Near beckoned from the shelf immediately. Bright of the Sky is also the book that suffers the most from those aforementioned perspective shifts.
[See also: JP's review]
With A World Too Near and subsequent novels, the pace begins to pick up as Kenyon spends less time crafting her world and more time playing in it. Building on some of the surprises that emerge toward the end of Bright of the Sky, the principal conflict of the series is revealed and the battle lines are drawn. The question of who to trust is paramount and a looming decision allows Kenyon to really dig into her cast of characters. Where Bright of the Sky was about introducing the Entire, A World Too Near is really about establishing the key characters and fleshing out their motivations as they traverse the fantastic civilization. One of the most significant developments in this regard is the introduction of Helice Maki, another transplanted Earthling with an endgame that may or may not align with Quinn’s. Upon entering the Entire, the plot evolves from a simple us-versus-them conflict into a more complex adventure. Although it suffers slighty from middle novel syndrome, A World Too Near really sets the stage well for the last half of the series.
The strongest and most science fictional of the volumes, A City Without End sees Kenyon accelerate the thread of Quinn’s battle with the fearsome Tarig to a frenetic pace. Even though she still pens a few new characters, Kenyon’s takes advantage of the gradual set up of the first two novels and really pushes the plot forward in unexpected directions. Unlike the other novels, A City Without Endalso includes a strong second plotline set in the Rose universe; one that could support an entire novel in and of itself. As it is, this thought provoking idea is only furthers the existing conflict. As the Rose and Entire plotlines collide on an unexpected battleground, the pages really start to turn. While the first two books were structured similar to classic “journey fantasies”, A City Without End is more of a political SF thriller than a traditional fantasy. There is a great balance between closure and setup as Kenyon slams some doors and opens others, creating numerous possibilities for the direction of the concluding volume, Prince of Storms.
In the concluding volume of the series, Kenyon manages to wrap up the numerous threads of The Entire and The Rose while continuing to grow her characters in the face of new challenges. At first the final volume feels likes it would just be a prolonged epilogue especially after the spectacular ending of A City Without End but it’s clear that Kenyon has a few more tricks up her sleeve. Prince of Storms takes a more fantastical approach to the Entire, taking advantage of some of the more unexplained intricacies of the Entire to raise the stakes once again. Reading the final book made it extremely clear how well Kenyon had planned out the entire series. Things that seemed to be throw away lines in the first two volumes were brought full circle, adding an appreciated cohesion to the story and lending credence to the final climax. Prince of Storms ends the series on a strong note, leaving the readers with a robust narrative that doesn’t leave the door open for future derivative adventures.
Ultimately, The Entire and The Rose is more than a sum of its composite volumes, so much so that it was too difficult to reach a conclusion on one book before reading the others. The story flows through the pages like one of the arms of the Nigh (a river of exotic matter from the story), bearing strongly motivated characters through alternating periods of slow progress and torrential action. The narrative twists and turns unexpectedly, creating new letters to place between points A and B. At the core of Kenyon’s series is her imagined Entire, rivaling any fantasy world for its complexity and surpassing the vast majority for sheer inventiveness. Despite some missteps in presentation, Kay Kenyon’s The Entire and The Rose has created a unique science fantasy series that is worth reading, well, in its entirety.
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