ORCASEKAI by S. Amaranthine is the final novel in the author’s trilogy that began with a tale of mothers losing their children and ends with an epic adventure through boundless time and universes. It’s an ambitious novel, and one that does its best to wrap up the various narrative arcs of the series. However, the story itself can be difficult to follow because of all the unique concepts introduced and will require multiple readings (which, arguably, is by design).
There is a writers’ aphorism that sums up the problems with this book: You can tell an odd story, or you can tell a story oddly. When writers try to do both, they risk making their story inaccessible to casual readers. Orcasekai never really defines the physical spaces where our characters’ stories unfold, and this can sometimes leave the reader confused about what is going on and where it’s taking place.
For example, in Chapter Five Johnny and Kei are traveling through a jungle in the Cetapiens reality. However, we don’t actually get a sense of what it looks, feels, or smells like. Throughout the books the characters, particularly the whale characters, use their senses to get information and data about their surroundings. However, that data is not always shared with the readers in ways that can help them conceptualize the setting or characters.
Now, to be clear, it’s possible that these lingering uncertainties would make themselves clear on multiple readings of the book. Amaranthine’s prose is lyrical and a pleasure to read, even when you only understand about half the words the in the sentence. She provides glossaries and in-text explanations and employs an omniscient narrator to help provide the needed context. Still, even if understanding escapes you, the story is fun to read just for its use language and philosophy.
The entire trilogy is a unique concept for science-fiction, almost defying the archetypes that serve as touchstones for real-world readers to imagine these impossible places. Still, the dialogue is epic in scope and the characters range from determined and passionate to all-knowing and serene. The confidence in the prose suggests that this is a clear, deliberate vision from the author. Even if the reader has difficulty parsing what precisely is happening, there is a definite progression in the story that anyone can follow.
What’s clear is that this is the ending of the story S. Amaranthine envisioned and she realized it, navigating tricky waters (no pun intended) to finish it on her terms. For all the parts of the story that are hard to grasp, the core story drives the reader onward and encourages re-reading. The inclusion of orca and sperm whale characters is inspired, and the time spent with them comprise the most enthralling parts of the book and the series as a whole. This is an odd story, told oddly, and whether or not that works for a particular reader, reading this book is an experience worth having.
~Joshua M. Patton for IndieReader