Ken MacLeod, The Restoration Game, Orbit, 2010.
The story centres on a fictional former Soviet Republic, Krassnia. Lucy Stone works for a computer company that makes a game set in this Republic, based on Lucy's mother's study of its mythology. Lucy soon learns that there is a kernel of reality behind the myth she had heard from childhood, and sets out to discover the truth.
Like many of MacLeod's books, this is a political thriller, but it is also SF. It is difficult to discuss the plot in any detail without spoliers. Let's just say that the many coincidences, parallels, and foreshadowings are there for a reason. The central plot device was apparent to me from early on, but this did not reduce my enjoyment of the story. I got the feeling while reading this that the author was relishing his cleverness, and inviting the readers who got the early hints to join in and enjoy the journey of discovery the characters undertake, while those who were slower to understand would end up impressed with what they discover along with the characters.
As we follow Lucy from her IT job into a complicated political world, involving her mother's past relationships and Lucy's childhood in Krassnia, a picture of the wider world emerges. At one central plot moment, two characters who should (in my opinion) mistrust each other, and one should be furious about what the other is about to do, just decide to cooperate for short-term expedience in a way that seemed to me unrealistic. I have seen these moments of easy trust in MacLeod's work before, and wonder whether this is part of his personality, or perhaps a form of idealism.
The story is full of subtle details, vivid descriptions (MacLeod is good at clothing), and moments of humour and emotion. Lucy's character is well-drawn, while some of the other characters are less fully developed.
The final revelation will please those who knew all along, and, I hope, be a pleasant surprise for those who had no idea where the story was leading them. It might give many readers a lot to think about. I enjoyed this book, though I do not consider it the author's best work.