BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Adelaide, the black sheep of a ruling family in the great ocean city of Osiris, wishes to find her missing twin brother and forms an alliance with Vikram, a third-generation storm refugee who hopes Adelaide can save his people from certain death by cold and starvation.
PROS: Rich worldbuilding; engrossing story; believable & complex characters.
CONS: It’s not quite clear how so many residents take it for granted that there is no dry land left on Earth.
BOTTOM LINE: An engrossing story from start to finish.
A brief look at the book description for Osiris by E.J. Swift might lead one to believe it to be a post-apocalyptic book. While it’s true that the story takes place after a great calamity — in this case, a Great Storm that caused worldwide flooding — it’s something that happened half a century before the story opens. There is the appearance of a stable society (though not too stable, as the reader learns) and the citizens of the great city of Osiris do enjoy the luxuries and services of which they are capable, like warm baths, exclusive social gatherings, media consumption and so forth.
But this is not enjoyed by all of the city’s citizens. If Osiris has one prevalent theme it is the contention between the Haves and the Have-Nots. That’s no more apparent than in the depiction of its two main protagonists. Adelaide is the daughter of one of Osiris’ ruling families and enjoys the comforts and power that her socialite status affords her. However, she is a self-proscribed outcast, a black sheep who simultaneously enjoys her inherited privileges and social status yet uses it to embarrass her family, much to the disappointment of her father and her brother; both members of the City Council. Meanwhile, Vikram, a westerner from the slums of the city, lives in a different world entirely. In western Osiris people scrounge for food and try to protect themselves from the deadly cold. Crime is rampant, with power-hungry overlords often calling the shots. Vikram’s one hope is that he can change the living conditions of his third-generation refugee neighbors through peaceful means.
This proves to be a difficult task as the city has all but written them off, even going so far as to create a border to segregate the westerners from the other parts of the city. The history of violence between the two parts of the city hasn’t done much to ease the tension either. The disparate living conditions are like night and day and the people in the more affluent parts of the city need never see the living conditions of the poor. Not only are the rich segregated from the poor, but the entire city is bordered off from the rest of the world, even though it is believed that there is no more dry land and that Osiris is the last bastion of mankind (though there are factions that believe otherwise).
One can see that the city of Osiris has a rich back story that is indicative of the novel’s spectacular world building. It’s described as “a shimmering metropolis sunk shin deep into the ocean”. Indeed, it’s a technological marvel, as much as it could be given the catastrophe — which makes the contrast with the western region all the more stark. The widespread idea that Osiris might be the last holdout of humanity gives the book an appropriate feel of isolation, though one wonders how this is taken for granted as truth within two generations.
Osiris would still be good if all it had was worldbuilding, but it offers so much more by way of plot and storytelling. The thrust of the narrative is the motivation of the characters. Adelaide refuses to believe that the recent disappearance of her twin brother means that he is dead. And Vikram, motivated to balance the scales of human decency (and more immediately by witnessing the public execution of his friend), attempts to obtain aid for the westerners by way of food, electricity and medicine. Vikram thus appeals to Adelaide, and they eventually see the mutual benefits of assisting one another. Adelaide and Vikram are both portrayed as complex characters with varying degrees of insight, emotion and empathy. Neither of them are without faults.
This is evident in the way the story unfurls, which is to say that things happen that are the result of what the characters do, as opposed to reverse: them just sitting around reacting to things that happen. Osiris also contains a fair bit of though-provoking material revolving around the treatment of refugees and the downtrodden as well as the abuse of power. It forces readers to ask themselves what it would take to spur them to action. Now combine this with the other interesting elements of the book like political intrigue, subterfuge, the way the story is told from alternating viewpoints…and you can see why Osiris shines. It’s that kind of impressive storytelling that makes Osiris hard to put down, and when you have to put it down, something that you remain eager to pick up again.