Tanner Mirabel is a security expert on the backwater planet of Sky's Edge. Years of war have given him plenty of expertise in the area, and he serves his boss Cahuella admirably. Until he makes one collosal mistake. After a postmortal named Argent Reivech has killed Cahuella and his beautiful wife Mirabel is duty bound to extract vengeance, although he understands Reivech's motivations perfectly. He follows the postmortal across deepspace spending over a decade in hibernation. He awakes inside the prosperous Epsilon Eridani system, orbiting the planet of Yellowstone and it's capital - Chasm City.
Epsilon Eridani however, isn't the technological paradise it once was. Seven years ago, while Mirable was in reefersleep, the system was infected by a mysterious plague. Wreaking havoc throughout the system the Melding Plague affected technology on a microsopic level, twisting the very nature of the system while killing countless millions. Chasm City has become a gothic nightmare, it's buildings wildly contorting into nightmare shapes and it's populace being forced to abandon advanced technology. Only in the canopy, high above the lower levels of the city, does a sense of prosperity remain. Hermetics sealed in palanquins still carry their implants, and the rich stave off the effects of the plague by using a mysterious drug. It's hardly the world Mirabel expected to awake in, but whatever has happened to Chasm City, his ultimate goal remains unchanged. He is determined to find Reivech, and kill him.
Mirabel's pursuit of Reivech however, isn't the only story being told in 'Chasm City'. Before leaving Sky's Edge, he was infected with a religious virus which allows him to relive parts of the life of the planet's founder - Sky Haussman. Both a hero and a monster, he was crucified shortly after the planet was settled. These are easily the most fascinating parts of the book, as Reynolds draws a riveting picture of Haussman centuries ago. The insights into his character are marvellous, and a vivid picture of the true Schuyler Haussman beings to emerge.
After waking up from his Journey, Mirabel has elements of temporary amnesia. The book is seeded with flashbacks of his final days on Sky's Edge, and what really happened to him and Cahuella as Reivech's men descended on them. Nothing is ever clear cut in Reynold's books, and 'Chasm City' is no exception. The reader is alwasy forced to reconsider the truth as more of Mirabel's shattered memory restores itself. Although they're not quite plot twists, as they're foreshadowed admirably, they're still spectacular developments and make the book difficult to put down. In fact, the Haussman visions and Tanner's flashbacks are generally more satisfying than the main storyline. It's hard to describe how addicting these passages are; Reynolds uses all of his considerable skill to draw the reader into strange and unique environments, and slowly build a completely engrossing storyline.
Reynolds builds a surreal setting in Chasm City, and although he's portrayed the techno-gothic city well, it's not quite a completely original world. original. At times it seems achingly similar to New Crobuzon in China Mieveille's 'Perdido Street Station', which is a compliment of the higest order. When it comes to character development, he's not as successful however. Although Mirabel is portrayed in sufficient depth, the secondary characters are aboslutely two-dimensional. Their only purpose is to advance the storyline, and in pursuit of this goal they often act in ways completely contrary to common sense. Some further exploration of the supporting characters would have made 'Chasm City' a truly spectactular novel.
The main draw in 'Chasm City' is the juggernaut of a storyline. Spanning centuries, the novel also touches upon the central elements of 'Revelation Space' and it's attendant sequels - spanning millions of years of galactic history. These references to the Inhibitors help to tie the novel in with the rest of the books, but don't fit in well with 'Chasm City' as a stand alone work. They do however, add several points of interest to the novel, and are fascinating in their own right. Although these plot lines cannot obviously be resolved in a prequel, they're not developed thoroughly enough to compliment the rest of the book. In fact, Reynolds seems to let one major plot thread go at the end, deciding not to resolve it. It looks like there's a second prequel in the works. Although the end of the novel has all major events primed for the beginning of 'Revelation Space', there's still about 5 years to play with - time enough for another book.
'Chasm City' is in most respects an excellent novel. The world Alastair Reynolds has created in 'Revelation Space' is a fascinating one, and 'Chasm City' adds a whole new dimenions to the epic story. Focusing more on human elements it tells a compelling tale centures in the making. If you haven't yet read 'Revelation Space', don't worry. 'Chasm City' is probably the best place to start, as it gives the reader a brief introduction to a new world, and leads in perfectly to 'Revelation Space'.