The stars have aligned. The Old Ones stir in their sleep. The great sky wolf has devoured the moon. And I have finished reading a book*.

It’s Hannu Rajaniemi’s Summerland!


In short, it’s a pre-WWII Brits-versus-Soviets double agent spy thriller as both sides try to meddle in the Spanish Civil War to push either Franco or a little-known Georgian emigre on the run… from the overmind that now runs the USSR. And half the secret service are dead, operating from the afterlife - the titular Summerland. One of whom is a mole for the Russians.

That might sound more batshit than it is; the existence of Summerland - and the ecto-technology that allows communication with and exploitation of the dead and the land beyond - is presented as such a fact of life, that it’s clear from very early on that the story is going to be about questioning the effects of its existence both on the political world and on the human level, where the long-dead still run their affairs back in the world of the living, rather than about, hey, dead people, isn’t that weird.

Rajaniemi does a great job of humanising both central characters - demoted field agent Rachel White and Summer Court spy for the Soviets Peter Bloom (no spoiler on that; the story’s not a case of whether he is the traitor, but why, and whether he can be caught) - to the extent that the story doesn’t have an antagonist as such; it’s just a messy situation on all sides.

The plotting is intriguing, the pace snappy, and the style very lean. If I was to split hairs, I’d wonder (having gone through similar) whether the sequence of events in the closing section was as originally intended or changed in editing because as well as introducing concepts and capabilities much less steadily than in the earlier stages, it also greatly ramps up the physical action. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the climax, though; it’s just a little different tonally to what’s come before.

Summerland is a great book, and one I’d very much recommend.

* Obviously I finish other books across the year, but that’s work; dissecting something when the author’s paying for short story or novel editing services isn’t the same as reading a book for fun.