Cataveiro. Book Review

cataCATAVEIRO by E J Swift
Del Rey, p/b, 400pp, £8.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

The idea is fascinating. A post apocalyptic world in which technology has been shunned by some, embraced by others while the equatorial areas are mostly uninhabitable. The Antarctic has been colonised, Canada’s a world superpower and the Patagonian area is used by both sides to spy on the other.

Pity the book is boring. Like several authors whose books I’ve read recently, Swift spends a lot of time worldbuilding and outlining the characters, but in ways that send you to sleep. Infodump after infodump until halfway through when the story starts being told. The worst of it is that you could start 100 pages in and still know everything that happened in that first part as it’s rehashed again.

It’s a throwback to a mid twentieth century style of writing epitomised by Daphne du Maurier. Long winded, dull and nothing happening for whole swathes of the book. Admittedly, it suits some people to read rambling accounts, but it falls into the category of writing labelled as ‘tell, don’t show’ the polar opposite of the advice given to all new writers of ‘show, don’t tell’.

The premise is a good one. Romana flies the only plane in South America and, as far as anyone knows the only plane outside of the technological states of Antarctica or the Boreal regions. She spends her days making maps for the government of Patagonia and helping archaeologists map the fading Nazca lines. Taeo was exiled from Antarctica for challenging the status quo and now lives apart from his wife and children, longing to get home and spending his days in an opium filled stupor trying to forget where he is.

Some way into the book, once the near endless infodumps have finished, a ship is beached south of Taeo. The rumours are that it’s come from Osiris, a city under the sea that was destroyed some years ago. Or was it? No, it wasn’t, as the prologue makes clear. Romana’s base is the same Patagonian city as Taeo, and he meets her, then persuades her to take a message to Panama where Antarctican agents will find her, she’ll give them the object she carries and get paid, and Taeo can go home. How? By bringing to Antarctica an inhabitant of Osiris, a city the rest of the world thinks dead, but the Antarcticans know isn’t.

By this stage I was struggling to stay awake or interested. Then the story picked up the pace. And it was still difficult to stay awake or interested.

Taeo rescues the sole survivor of the shipwrecked boat and makes his way to Cataveiro, a hellhole of a place full of spies, crooks and other ne’er-do-wells. Bit like New York but without the money or the niceties. Ramona also ends up there as her mother is dying and she wants some medicine for her.

I’d like to say that at this point I got interested, but I’d be lying. The story goes off on several irrelevant tangents to pad the book out and the ending is one that left me thinking ‘meh’, but glad I’d got to the end of it.

It’s taken a few hours of my life that I’ll never get back for a book that I can only recommend to people suffering from insomnia. It’s overlong, goes off on too many tangents midway through, then ends up leaving the loose ends untied. That said, Swift has a very creative imagination and with a better, stronger editor could produce some great work. The raw material of her imagination allied with some good writing techniques mean she is capable so much more.