by Marie Brennan
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Pub Date 14 Aug 2020 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2020
In this first novel set in award-winning author Marie Brennan’s incomparable Driftwood fantasy universe, enter a post-apocalyptic realm where the apocalypse has not ended, where fragments of worlds cohere into shifting myths. Yet even as everything fades, Drifters gather to tell conflicting legends of Last, the guide—the one man who seemed immortal, but may have been a fraud.
[STARRED REVIEW] “Exploring found family, adaptation, and hope in the face of apocalypse, Brennan imbues this high-concept fantasy with a strong emotional core. Fantasy fans will be thrilled.” —Publishers Weekly
Who is Last?
Fame is rare in Driftwood—it’s hard to get famous if you don't stick around long enough for people to know you. But many know the guide, Last, a one-blooded survivor who has seen his world end many lifetimes ago. For Driftwood is a strange place of slow apocalypses, where continents eventually crumble into mere neighborhoods, pulled inexorably towards the center in the Crush. Cultures clash, countries fall, and everything eventually disintegrates.
Within the Shreds, a rumor goes around that Last has died. Drifters come together to commemorate him. But who really was Last? Lying liar, or heroic savior? A mercenary, a charlatan, a legend? A man, an immortal—perhaps even a god?
Driftwood is the invention of bestselling author Marie Brennan. Mirroring the world that many people are currently living in, the Driftwood stories chronicle the struggles of survivors and outcasts to keep their worlds alive until everything changes, diminishes, and is destroyed. Driftwood is the first full-length novel in this world.
A Note From the Publisher
Praise for Driftwood
A Worlds in Ink 2020 Most Anticipated Sci-Fi and Fantasy Release
[STARRED REVIEW] “Brennan skillfully builds a multiplicity of worlds, painting each unique and fully developed culture with bold, minimalist strokes and, though readers don’t get to spend much time with any single character, rendering each member of the sprawling cast with impressive nuance and subtlety. Exploring found family, adaptation, and hope in the face of apocalypse, Brennan imbues this high-concept fantasy with a strong emotional core. Fantasy fans will be thrilled. ”
[STARRED REVIEW] “A diverse cast of characters from disparate worlds, each facing their own rapidly approaching mortality, come together to memorialize a missing man—rumored to be immortal—in this new fantasy title from veteran author Brennan . . . Readers will close the cover aching to read more about Last and his world. An exciting delve into a conglomerate land filled with magic and mystery.”
[STARRED REVIEW] "Complex and riveting . . . Driftwood is epic in scale and yet rooted in satisfying detail, full of possibility and wonder.”
“Haunting, timeless, and timely. Brennan invented Driftwood, but it feels like she discovered it.”
—Max Gladstone author of The Empress of Forever
"Driftwood is a richly imagined and shifting place. I keep thinking about it weeks after shutting the book. This is what people mean by 'haunting'"
―Mary Robinette Kowal, author of The Calculating Stars
“Bittersweet and haunting, Brennan’s story celebrates the death-defying power of love and everlasting memory.”
—Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo
“Marie Brennan never disappoints.”
—Elitist Book Reviews
“A wildly creative and imaginative novel that showcases an author’s vast talent and hard work. Grab this book with both hands and hang on with white knuckles for an experience unlike any other book you are likely to read this or any other year.”
“The world building is excellent. The characters are all well developed as well. I thought this was a fantastic book.”
—Book Lover’s Boudoir
“The writing itself is beautiful, but it is the world-building (or perhaps more correctly world-breaking) where this book really stood out.”
—Beneath a Thousand Skies
“We’re lucky to have the imagination of writers like Marie Brennan right now to keep us afloat amidst the flotsam and jetsam of COVID-19. Driftwood is a life preserver.”
—The Woven Tale Press
“Between the extremely original world building, effective storytelling and fantastic writing I was spellbound by Driftwood.”
—Looking Glass Books
“I reveled in all of the world-building Brennan packed into this book.”
—A Bookish Type
“A short, sweet, and dark apocalyptic fantasy that does not overstay its welcome while leaving you desiring more.”
—The Quill to Live
Promotion at major trade and genre conventions including BEA, ALA, and the World Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions
Interviews and reviews to include trade, literary, media, and sci-fi fantasy/coverage
Author appearances in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and national venues
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Average rating from 70 members
Driftwood is one of the most incredibly creative fantasies you will find. The story isn't about world-building as much as world-shattering. Think of a universe built of concentric circles.
On the outside is the Mist. Then, there's the Edge which is filled with all the worlds new to Driftwood, all having faced their own apocalypses and shattering into pieces as they move toward the center. Past this Ring of worlds, each containing unique amazing species and barely separated.
At the Edge, worlds are new to Driftwood. They just had their apocalypses. Farther in, there’s the Shreds, which are but remnants of entire planets, crumbling into Mere neighborhoods and city blocks. And then there's the Crush, where world crumble and die. Sort of like a giant black hole from which nothing emerges.
It's rather hard to visualize how these worlds all come together and how beings travel from one to another, but eventually you as a reader accept the concept.
Also added into the mix is an immortal being, Last, who acts as a bounty hunter or tour guide. He eventually becomes the focal point of the book, but the story is never told from his point of view. Just from those who encounter him and there are many of these who seek from him things he cannot bestow.
The format of the book is a little different too. This isn't an epic quest for the holy grail, but a series of connected folktales told by various people about the Shreds and about Last, the one who cannot die. This is one of those books so creative that it's just fascinating to read. And there's so much here with so many worlds that more stories could perhaps emerge.
Many thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
“Driftwood is the end, the end of the ends. Nothing comes after that. Only oblivion, and maybe not even that much.”
A beautiful book made up of many stories, species, and worlds, all connected by a man named Last. Brennan described it as “a mosaic novel, with the story being told through many voices and many sub-tales… It’s made up of the short stories I’ve written already, plus a novelette-length tale that’s new, and it’s all stitched together with a frame that gives context and greater meaning to the pieces within it. Which makes the text kind of like Driftwood itself.” Perfection. This is one of my favorite books now and I really can’t get over how brilliant it is. I feel like I need to immediately buy this author’s other books and I definitely plan on buying a physical copy of this one when it’s released.
The blurb says: "Mirroring the world that many people are currently living in, the Driftwood stories chronicle the struggles of survivors and outcasts to keep their worlds alive until everything changes, diminishes, and is destroyed."
If you’re confused in the beginning, don’t worry, everything gets explained rather quickly once you’re past the initial little tale where you first meet Last. But here’s a little hint:
“Every world ends someday. Or maybe I’m wrong; who knows? If a place doesn’t come to an end, it doesn’t come here. But Driftwood is where worlds come to die.”
If that doesn’t make you want to read this, I don’t know what else to say. I really just want to write a few pages about what Driftwood really is, and what the Crush is, but alas, that’s a giant spoiler.
There are so many things to love about this book, and the characters are one of them. I thought the jumping around with different characters and their stories would bother me (because it almost always does), but I loved it here. Each world is so different and fascinating, and the stories really sucked me in. Plus, they’re connected in little ways by one character.
There was one story/chapter I wasn’t as fond of, “Remembering Light”, but one among the many isn’t bad, and I did enjoy the story… just not near as much as the rest of the book. It was slow and vague up until the very end. Just wasn’t the best story in the bunch is all.
And one last spoiler type thing that kind of bugged me: <spoiler>We don’t <i>really</i> know what happened to Last. I assume he died, but I’m not crazy about ambiguous endings.</spoiler>
(Side note: I couldn’t help thinking how, if Earth ended up in Driftwood, humans would definitely find a way to completely destroy it and kill everybody, or at the very least, they’d start sowing hate and mistrust at every turn. One character <spoiler> Kuondae</spoiler> does that, and I kept thinking “so maybe she’s got some human in her down the line”. So many times while I was reading about all these different species walking around together, trying to survive together for as long as possible despite the insane circumstances, did I think “I just know that <b>humans would not be able to handle this shit.”</b> Religious fanatics would be fueling some crazy ass fires, everyone would be fear mongering and xenophobic (or whatever word means hating and fearing other species/worlds/realities), and the militaries and governments would either separately start nuking everything or band together to nuke everyone else/everything they didn’t understand. Darkly funny and deeply sad, but I thought about it quite often.)
Anyway. This story is so creative and magical, I wish I had thought of it. And whenever I have that thought while reading, I know I have to recommend it. I would have anyway though, because it’s a fun book with characters and plots that stay interesting start to finish.
This was utterly incredible. An unbelievable feat of creative worldbuilding. If you like cerebral fantasy that's still delicately wrought in beautiful unembellished prose, this is definitely for you. There are lots of tropes turned inside out here - not a world being built so much as a world ending; not an unreliable narrator so much as a narrative which surrounds an unreliable or unknowable character whose pov is never used. It's a series of encounters and tales that are initially confusing but break through to a glorious whole picture. A stunning novel with strong themes and engaging characters.
What a wonderful story made up from a few short stories, connected by one man named Last. Who is Last and why is this his name? And how is he still alive, wandering around Driftwood, making legend of himself?
I was hooked up from page one and the thing that pulled me in was a beautiful prose. I really liked the style of writing here, it carried with itself the sense of wonder and, sometimes, a nostalgia. And every short story gives us a feeling of magic, but also fleeting and vanishing of everything. Because Driftwood is where worlds die. There are many of them, but they aren't whole. They come to Driftwood after their apocalypses, shredded and dying, just to exist for a while and then disappear into the Crush.
With its construction, this novel reminded me a little of first volume of the Witcher series, where we have some kind of introduction to each story and then we got the story. Also Last as a character in times reminded me of Geralt of Rivia.
Like I said, this is a wonderful story with a beautiful world, or worlds, all connected by Driftwood and Last. Excellent idea and I hope we will see more of the universe.
Wow. I'm so caught up in this novel that I think part of me is still in Driftwood.
This incredible ride begins with Last: he's an inhabitant of Driftwood, the place where hundreds of different worlds go to die.
Last has outlived by far his race's life span, and he survived the death of his world. His ability to stay alive, while everyone else's life span in Driftwood tends to shrink along with their world, is a mystery: who really is Last? Is he a god? Is he a genetic miracle?
And, most importantly, where is Last?
That's right: apparently, Last pulled a Carmen Sandiego on his fellow Drifters - acquaintances, friends, followers - and vanished without a trace.
Lots of people, then, gather to talk about him, speculate on his possible death and tell how he made a mark in their lives.
However, calling Driftwood only "Last's story" is kind of underwhelming: he is the fil rouge of this story, but Driftwood is so much more than him alone.
It's a wrecked world where hope is far more valuable than promises.
It shows what unity is, and why it's the core of life.
Driftwood stares right into the eye of death and spits in it.
Driftwood is stubborn and naïve and inevitably bound to disappear eventually, but you are less doomed if you live like you are never going to die.
Driftwood is the latest novel by author Marie Brennan, the author of The Memoirs of Lady Trent (A Natural History of Dragons). I really loved that series and its spinoff novel because of how well it built a series based upon Brennan's knowledge of anthropology, archeology, and science, together with great characters, a lot of wit, and a fun fantasy world. It's really great and you should read it. So naturally, when I saw her upcoming novel* on Netgalley, I put in a request immediately, and so I obtained Driftwood for this review.
*Driftwood is around 200 pages long from what I can tell, and is at best a short novel and may even be short enough to be considered a "Novella" - certainly I've seen books of similar length called as such. But the marketing text on booksellers' sites lists it as a "novel", and so thus, shall I.
Driftwood is very much in the same vein as the above, a short novel with some strong characters and a very anthropological focus: namely, how do people respond when their worlds begin their inevitable end? And I mean this literally, the story is essentially a series of tales of "Driftwood", the place that worlds go after their apocalypses, where they merge with other worlds as they slowly die out. Each tale is particularly interesting and explores different grounds, all centered around characters interacting with a mysterious man who seems to survive everything. It's a really well done set of tales and if this is the first in a new series, I would definitely look forward to more.
Driftwood has been a thing seemingly forever, a place where worlds end. Or really, a place for worlds that have already ended. For Driftwood is where worlds that suffer their own apocalypses go, or the bits that seemingly survive of them. Those bits first appear out of the mist that borders Driftwood, and then slowly start to get smaller and pushed towards the center of Driftwood - the Crush - until they eventually disappear.
Some worlds handle their entry into Driftwood, and their eventual ends, better than others - being willing to mix blood and trade with the other worlds they now neighbor instead of demanding racial and political purity - but all worlds require their own form of adaptation to their end. And eventually, they disappear - everyone does.
Except for the strange man known as "Last", the man who has seemingly been in Driftwood forever and never faded. Many seek him out, seeking some clue to how their world can survive, which he refuses to give them. Others seek him out for his experience and guidance in knowing all the worlds of Driftwood, so they can learn to adapt to the end. But no matter what, Last endures as everything and everyone else disappears.
Until one day, Last seems to have disappeared. In memory of the one person in Driftwood who seemed to be eternal, the residents of Driftwood come together and tell their stories of how he helped them, or at the very least affected their lives, and try to figure out who Last really was.....or is.
Driftwood is the type of "novel" that is often kind of hard to distinguish from an anthology - the novel is bookended by two short segments told through first person, and then contains a framing device story - the seeming funeral of Last - to tell a series of stories about the time people sought out Last for Aid. So if you're looking for a cohesive story of a single character, you won't find it here - Last isn't ever the main character of his stories and what we know about him comes generally from unreliable sources, no matter how well intentioned and the short first person segments.
Instead, we have a series of stories that are essentially telling the tales of how different peoples and individuals tried to deal with the ends of their worlds - and the ideas that their worlds were not special or as unique as they once thought. Driftwood provides the perfect setting for these tales: made up of different shards of worlds that all follow their own rules, which merge into each other over time before disappearing. Even the inhabitants do this, to the point where peoples find themselves interbreeding to become unrecognizable as part of any given world - the drifters - where any "one-blood", a person whose ancestry is purely of a single world, stand out more than anything and languages tend to merge the deeper you get into a pidgin.
And so this world provides for the stories of peoples adapting and learning to cope with the inconceivable. So you have a high chancellor braving his king's order not to visit the "false" outside worlds in order to find an outsider from a world that could heal the dying king, the last of a lineage without which his people would not know how to go on. You have a woman who desperately searches for a way to obtain an object her people left behind in a part of her world that is now too dangerous to enter, an object that means everything to her people. You have a historian who wants to chart and map Driftwood as it is, just for fun and knowledge, and is willing to take dangerous risks t pull it off. You have a priestess and leader who seeks out Last to obtain memories long lost of her people, so they can teach the young what once was. You have a boy, a true drifter without a world, who seeks something, a purpose or greater being to make the difficulties of Driftwood make sense. And you have a pair whose story is so short and surprisingly I won't say any more about.
These stories are very well done, and again, show the anthropological side of Brennan's stories and interests. Not everyone will react well to the end of everything - god knows we can see that today - but more will than you think (and Brennan perhaps makes this argument by having only one of the five major stories be focused upon someone acting destructively - and even then that person is driven less by the destruction of his world than other influences). But there are, even for coping and trying to survive positively, a number of ways to get by, and these stories show a good variety of such in interesting ways that really captivate.
It's a fascinating novel that works well and ends on a really nice touch, and I'd love to see more with this world, though I admit to being unsure what Brennan would do with it. But that's why I keep reading her as she manages to meet or exceed my expectations repeatedly.
I requested this book on Netgalley because of the author. This book is very different from the Lady Trent series though, apart from that it is excellently written.
This is how I imagine a book about Hoid (Sanderson) would be like. A group of people gather and tell stories about Last, a famous person in this world who is somehow immortal. The format is somewhat like that of the first Witcher books, a collection of short stories through which we get to know the main character and world.
And I love the world. Driftwood is the place words go when they are about to end. They start at the Edge, and slowly move towards the center where they disappear. Driftwood is constantly changing, and a very interesting mix of people, landscapes, geographies, cultures and natural phenomena. The possibilities are endless.
It took me a few chapters to get into this, the lack of main plot line confusing me. But then I was absolutely hooked on this fascinating setting with its diversity in people. It is a shorter read, one I easily got through in a few hours. It is so worth it though, because it is interesting and unique.
I really hope more books will be set in this world. I had a great time with it and highly recommend picking this one up.
*Driftwood* is probably the most creative thing I’ve read since *The Library at Mount Char*. It was just … staggeringly imaginative.
This is not a large book. I started reading it shortly before going to bed, intending to read only the first chapter or so and get a feel for my new book. Three hours later, I’m done, and have so many thoughts and emotions bouncing around inside me that I still can’t even think about sleep.
Let me tell you about Driftwood - the place, not the book. Driftwood is where worlds go to die. At the edge are worlds that have just experienced their own unique apocalypse. As time passes, the worlds press in on each other, shrinking and shrinking as they move towards the Crush at the center of Driftwood. The outer edges of Driftwood, the newly dying worlds, are still much as they were. As one moves inward, things compress, and worlds that had been the size of a continent or a country are now reduced to a town, then a neighborhood, packed cheek-by-jowl with the surviving scraps of other doomed worlds. As they near the Crush they are abandoned entirely, as the remaining survivors abandon their home as it nears its fate. But they still share that fate regardless – when a world finally reaches oblivion, the people of that world go to. You can’t escape this by walking to another world. (something people do all the time in Driftwood. You can’t not.) You can’t outlast the end of your world, and you can’t do anything to slow its death. It can take a long time to die, but the world and its people *will* die.
There is one exception to this: a fellow called Last. His world fell into the Crush long, long ago, and his people went with it. No one knows how or why he’s still around, least of all Last himself, but he has, persisting long past the natural lifespan of his people. Some of the Drifters (the ever-changing interbred people who live on the fringes of the Crush, and as close to natives of Driftwood as it is possible to be) think he’s just a story, some think he’s a con man, some think he’s a hero, some think he’s a god. Last just think’s that he’s a person trying to get by, a fluke, though he is very emphatic on the subject of his non-divinity.
Except now there’s a rumor that he’s dead, that he’s gone into the Crush at last, and Drifters have gathered together to commemorate him (or stand vigil for him to return, or hail His Ascension, or sneer at the lot of them, depending on one’s personal opinions).
This book is in the tradition of *The Canterbury Tales*, or, to put it in SF/F territory, *Hyperion*. It’s a series of vignettes being told by people of how Last touched them, or their people, or their families. Last’s inexplicable *permanence* made him a very unique person in Driftwood, able to serve as an advisor and guide through its ever-changing maze (always for a price). The stories all have a common thread: the desire to preserve what can’t be preserved, to remember and be remembered as long as is possible, to not go gently into that good night. The stories are all evocative, often warming, and at the same time heartbreakingly sad. Everything in Driftwood ends up in oblivion, no matter what you can do.
It is somewhat ironic that I’m reading this as an advanced copy (thanks to the folks at Tachyon Publications for the ARC). I’ve been reading lots of ARCs lately, which is awesome, but I’m very conscious of all the books that I’m not reading. This book has got me wondering at all the books that have been forgotten. Books that got published and flopped. Wonderful gems that today might rise to the top of the SPFBO but were written before self-publishing was a thing and no publisher was willing to take a chance on. Books that only ever existed in the imagination of people who always *wanted* to write, but never had the time. *Driftwood* makes me want to stop reading new stuff and start finding old, forgotten books. To save them from the Crush for as long as possible.
Because there’s a kind of reality to Driftwood, and at some point - maybe years from now, maybe decades, maybe centuries - Middle-earth will find its way there, and Westeros, and Hogwarts, and Discworld, and the Stillness, and every other world we fantasy readers know and love.
I picked this book up with middling expectations. I read *A Natural History of Dragons* a few years ago, and thought it was ok, but it didn’t really catch me and I had no interest in the rest. This book caught me. It caught me bad. And made me want to go out and read and maybe give a few forgotten worlds just a little longer to flourish.
*Driftwood* is quite short - as I said, I read the full thing in about 3 hours. There's no suggestion of a sequel, but there's certainly room for one. Hell, there's literally room for infinite stories in Driftwood, by the very nature of the place. But I'm not sure whether or not I want there to be. This book might be better as a small, perfect standalone.
Either way, the book comes out on August 14th.
Where do worlds go to die? The answer is Driftwood, a place where the apocalypse is ongoing. Some worlds come in fairly intact, gradually shrinking into oblivion. Others come in with as few as two survivors, a hopeless remnant bearing witness to a lost planet. Some species stay put, refusing to acknowledge the presence of other realities, maintaining a genetic purity that will end when their world finally disappears into “the Crush.” Others become Drifters, moving along the flotsam of dying worlds to continue surviving even as their original planets are lost in time. These Drifters are often a mixed breed with ancestors from different worlds.
And then there is Last.
Last is a one-blood, a survivor from a world long since destroyed. Some say he is immortal. He does not make that claim but acknowledges he has long outlived his expected years. Last is a guide, someone familiar with many of the worlds in Driftwood. He can be hired to help a person find what they are looking for. Some proclaim him to be a god. Others say he is a con man. Many are grateful for his help. A few wish him harm. When rumors of his death begin to circulate, a gathering forms to remember him.
Driftwood is a collection of stories about Last. One man desperately needs his help to save the life of his king. Another person wants to find a way to rescue a priceless object from an unreachable place. A scholar wishes to draw a map of Driftwood, fully aware that a map is almost meaningless in a place of constant change and destruction. A cultist seeks to make him a god. A person desires his memories of their world when it was younger. Last is able to help most of them, though the results are not always what the seeker expected.
Hence the dispute about his character. Last guides people through the worlds of Driftwood. He finds things, persons, places, whatever one is looking for. Sometimes, though, the cost is substantial, the results questionable, the outcome unsatisfying. Does that mean Last has manipulated the customer? Or has he tried his best to accomplish the impossible? Witnesses disagree, but the stories they tell are compelling.
I fell in love with the world building and characters of the Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan. If I did not know otherwise, I would never have assumed Driftwood was by the same author. The storytelling style is so very different from the breezy and intimate “memoirs” of Lady Trent. Instead of one narrator, there are several. Instead of one world, there are many. Brennan sets herself with the task of creating at least one new world (often more) and a new voice in every chapter. Characters from different species who are male, female, and non-binary. It is a monumental task and she masters it brilliantly.
The tissue that connects all of the stories is Last. By the end, we find that we know more about him. However, he remains an enigma in many ways, and the reader gets to fill in the gaps with their own interpretation.
Driftwood is a challenging book. The number of points of view, the shifting settings, the diverse characters, and the short-story collection feel to the book mean that the reader has to pay attention throughout. The reward, though, is a wildly creative and imaginative novel that showcases an author’s vast talent and hard work. Grab this book with both hands and hang on with white knuckles for an experience unlike any other book you are likely to read this or any other year.
I absolutely adored Driftwood. Before requesting this ARC, I read the short story because I wasn't quite certain I would like it. You can find the story here, though it is also the first chapter of the book. I'm so glad I read it, because I really loved the short story and the full book (which I was not expecting to be so short! It is only about 45k words) was no different.
Driftwood follows the tale of Last, which is also the tale of Driftwood. Driftwood is where dying worlds come to die. One day, they show up there, and piece by piece their people and their lands disappear, forever. Except Last.
Last is the last of his kind, the last of his world. No one knows how long he has lived, though it is longer than anyone else living can remember. His homeland has long since disappeared into the Crush, the center of Driftwood. He has lived past the time his kind should have died naturally. He is a mystery. Though he states that his intentions are to help the people of Driftwood, not everyone is convinced. And everyone wants to know the secret of why he is still alive and so many others aren't. Too bad Last doesn't know either.
Driftwood is told in a series of short stories, each one counting another tale of the man known as Last. Some are generations old, some are newer. There is a rumor going around that Last is dead at last, and no one knows what to think. They have held a sort of memorial, telling tales and remember Last, while also searching for anyone who has any real concrete proof of his death. Or life, as some hope.
While short, Driftwood is just so full of life. I wouldn't say it is full of happiness, since it is filled with people who are slowly losing their homes and lives. But it is full of life, regardless. I love the world that Brennan wrote. And I may have a small crush on Last. Even though he was rarely anything other than an enigma told by the storyteller. But when he was more, he was a friend.
I don't know if this is a book one in a series or a standalone, but I really hope I get more from this world. And Last.
ARC received from Tachyon Publications on Netgalley. This did not affect my review.
This is one of the most unique fantasy concepts I've encountered in a long while. I cracked it open this afternoon and simply couldn't put it down until I finished it. The world, Driftwood is the core of what's so awesome about the story/stories, As a place were worlds come to finish dying after their apocalypse it is an ever changing mosaic of bits and pieces, larger toward the Edge and fragmented just before the Crush where, as it implies, the final pieces vanish.
I thought having the story told in mosaic format using several short stories from various perspectives was so fitting, adding to the way you pictures things. The binding threads being the location and a character, Last, who I was as entranced with as the other characters were.
While this is a thoroughly satisfying read and you are not left hanging, I want more for greedy reasons. I loved it and just didn't want to leave. The concept allows for infinite possibilities and I hope to be back exploring in Driftwood again soon.
If you enjoy high concept fantasy this is must read.
I freaking loved this book! It has one of the most unique concepts I've ever read about.
Driftwood is a place where all worlds go to die after they had their apocalypse. Little pieces of the worlds with some inhabitants (if there are any left still) come out of the mist and slowly make their way for the middle, where the Crush awaits them. People from specific worlds are called one-bloods. Those who come from parents whose worlds have long perished are called drifters. Here, worlds don't live long,and neither do people. But there is one person,rumored to have been there when the first world came to die in Driftwood. His name is Last.
The book is structured as a collection of stories. People come to this bar and tell stories of encounters with Last. It is always the impressions he left on others,not the man himself, and I loved it,it made him into an enigma that he was for everyone in this place. We never find out if he is good or bad,just that he is very sad. Someone who lived that long would undoubtedly be sad and tired.
I loved all the different worlds that we got to see. This little book is filled with love for culture, customs, history and memories. I really need like ten more books set in Driftwood, I would read them all.
Thank you to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Series Info/Source: I got an eGalley of this from NetGalley for review. This is a loosely connected series of stories and is a stand alone book (although I would absolutely loved to read more stories set in this world).
Story (5/5): This is a loosely connected series of stories all set in the world of Driftwood. I really enjoyed it a ton and would love to see a series of full length novels set in this same world. There is so much here to explore! The stories focus on the mysterious character Last, as he drifts from place to place and helps the denizens of Driftwood navigate their personal worldly apocalypses and the ever changing landscape of Driftwood.
Characters (5/5): Brennan does an amazing job of introducing characters that are intriguing and engaging in a small amount of page space. The main character that connects them all is Last, he is mysterious and intriguing and drifts from story to story and a bit of a hero to boot.
Setting (5/5): This series of stories is all about world-building. The world here is amazing. Driftwood is an ever changing place where the remnants of worlds end up. These remnant worlds start at the edge of Driftwood and eventually end up in the center in the Crush as they are slowly forgotten. The denizens of these worlds desperately seek to save their world against this inevitable destruction. It is an ever changing world where you never know what you will see around the next corner. As you venture to the center things get increasingly fragmented. It is an absolutely amazing setting and I wish I could go and visit in person!
Writing/Drawing Style (5/5): This is very well written. The stories are loosely joined together with interludes as people wonder over Last’s absence. While they wait they tell stories of Last and how he helped people in his wanderings. It is masterfully written and I loved every bit of it. My only complaint is that it was done too soon.
My Summary (5/5): Overall this was very creative and unique and had some amazing world-building. I enjoyed the mysterious character of Last and how he navigated the world of Driftwood to help people survive in this ever changing landscape. Driftwood is an amazing place and I would love to read more stories or even a full length novel set here. Highly recommended especially to those who enjoy amazing and wondrous worlds. This book made a huge impression on me and I constantly find myself thinking about it.
In general, I tend to shy away from books filled with short stories. I want character development, world building, and fulfilling characters. I want to fall in love with a character after knowing about them for 300+ pages
"Driftwood" by Marie Brennan is not that. And yet, I loved it the way I would love any other amazing book. "Driftwood" is the opposite of 'world building.' Driftwood refers to a place where dying worlds have entered and collided- the center of this place is known as "the Crush." The Crush is the place where worlds go to die. No matter what, each world that enters Driftwood will eventually enter the Crush. Its people, culture, and ideology will inevitably be forgotten,
Enter the cohesive element of all of the short stories: Last. Last is the oldest person in Driftwood- many believe he was from the first world that entered Driftwood. Each story revolves around an interaction with Last.
I loved this book and I can tell that Brennan had fun writing it. It can be a bit dark (Death! Destruction!), but it is also filled with beautiful moments and great writing. I read most of Brennan's "Lady Trent" series and love her word choice and storytelling. With an unknown, but numerous amount of worlds, Brennan has a lot to work with. I hope to see another book in this series and highly recommend it to all my fantasy-reading friends.
Thank you Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for an advanced reader's copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
"What was there to fear in death? Death was just an end, and ends were good. They might hurt you, but then they stopped."
In order to get the most out of Driftwood, a reader must arm themselves ahead of time. Archeologists’ tools - brushes, trowels, and picks - are recommended. This, you see, is not merely a book… but an artefact of another world. Driftwood immerses the reader within its ever-shifting borders. It demands that the reader explore and discover, content in its own ergodicity without crossing the line into onanism. The constant press of the new and novel, the erasure of history and culture, and the preservation of individual identity within that atmosphere is explored with a subtle, deft hand. This is less a novel than it is a glimpse into a distant, alien future that might have been.
The world - or rather worlds - of Driftwood are an ever-present reminder that time waits for no one. Driftwood is the shore where worlds wash up to die. At the edges, life can more or less continue on as normal. When worlds have only recently ended, they’re able to maintain much of their history… for a time. As new lands fall and wash up from the Mists and into Driftwood, their weight begins to push others inward. Everything compacts in on itself, slowly and inexorably being pushed into the Crush, where everything ends once and for all.
"Life is different in the Shreds. Out on the very edges of Driftwood, places like Kakt, a determined person can live her whole life pretending her home is still its own world. A little farther in, when things have gotten smaller and you’re not by the Mist anymore, you start thinking of your world as a country; you learn about your neighbors, trade with them, set up embassies in their territory. But in the Shreds, there’s no ignoring the weirdnesses of Driftwood, the way it’s summer on one street and winter on another, day here and night there, obedient to your laws of reality in your own ghetto, but operating by a totally different set of rules three houses down. Don’t ask how it works. It’s Driftwood. Patchwork of world fragments, illogic made concrete. It just is, and you learn to live with it."
Each of the short vignettes presented in the novel explores a different facet of preservation. Very few go gladly unto their deaths; most are desperate to grasp at the smallest chance that they might regain who they were before Driftwood eroded away at their home and culture. They’ve lost their land, their temples, and sometimes even their own names. They have not only been destroyed, but also replaced - they have been ground away by the new worlds appearing at the edges, forced into extinction by new world, new people, and new cultures. They have grown old and forgetful. Their identity has been diluted until it became no longer recognizable as their own.
The many featured narrators are gathered together in an amphitheater located in a small Shred of a world, itself a microcosm of Driftwood at large. “The amphitheater has been abandoned for ages, and for good reason. Any living creature that remains within its truncated bowl when that world’s sun rises dies . . . or disappears and is never seen again, which amounts to the same thing.” While the amphitheater exists at a much smaller scale, it represents the same sort of cyclical renewal-destruction process exhibited in Driftwood as a whole. Each dawn is a destruction of any who remain within its boundaries, just as the arrival of a new world to Driftwood spells the end of an existing one.
One person in Driftwood exists outside of this basic law of creation and Crush. Known only as Last, he is the only remaining survivor of his world. His people and land disappeared into the Crush long ago; unlike other one-bloods who never mixed with other races of Driftwood, Last managed to avoid disappearing alongside his home. Each of the narrators describe one small facet of Last’s story. He brings them hope, heartache, and ruin in turns. Through this lens, they unveil Last’s own struggle with immortality.
Last is deeply, deeply alone. While he finds small bits and pieces of meaning and identity through his role as a guide to those who are lost, he nevertheless faces an internal battle not dissimilar to the physical world’s. He is burdened not by the future, but by his own past. Memories of his people have long ago ceased to be a comfort; now, they weigh him down and press him in just as the new worlds push and jostle the older ones. Last struggles to remain in the present as he watches countries come and go. Each one that succumbs to the Crush is yet another weight on his soul. He struggles to maintain close friendships, keeping others at arms-length by keeping to his contracted role as a helper.
“You’re the only one who remembers,” Noirin said. His world, and countless others that had come and gone. “If you forget . . . then they’re dead, even if you live.”
“Maybe I want that,” he said harshly, cutting across the steady rise and fall of the music.
“For now. But not forever. There will come a time when you regret the loss of those memories. And who will remember them for you then?”
While Last’s fate is ambiguous, what he desires most becomes clearer and clearer throughout the course of each story. This culminates in the final, the last, story in the novel. This one is told from Last’s perspective, focused on a small, tiny farm that appeared at the edge of the Mist. Due to its diminutive size, it was commonly held that Paggarat would disappear long before it ever reached the Crush. However, its two inhabitants held on, smiling, until the very end. To them, what mattered existed in the moment. The connection and love between the two of them allowed them to smile even in the face of annihilation. Connection: the one thing that Last both seeks out and rejects in the same breath.
These conflicting desires as they exist alongside the destruction and renewal are what sets Bennan’s novel apart. Driftwood will haunt you long after you’ve set it down. Brennan has crafted a gorgeous, poignant apocalypse where getting a second chance doesn’t always mean getting a new life. Each of the diaspora she’s depicted are richly imagined, complex, and compelling. I cannot recommend it enough.
Te only unambiguous thing about this book is how much I loved it. Is Last dead? What is he? How does Driftwood work? Is this a novel or a collection of connected short stories? Unclear. All of it.
But that doesn't really matter, because the focus on details creates a world at eye level. No one knows or cares what's happening in the next Shred over, not even the reader. What the reader cares about is what's happening in the moment.
I never read Marie Brennan before, so it was my first encounter with her writing-style. Let's say I don't regret it!
First, let me tell you: it's quite hard to write about this book. What to say, what not to say, how to explain, what could be a spoiler, what is not, how to express what I felt reading it. I'll try as best I can.
I had a hard time in the beginning because it is quite confusing: we enter the book in medias res, not knowing anything about the characters and the world. There are some hard names to pronounce - except for Last's -, it's hard to know when a name is for a world or for a person, hard to know where we are, who is who, what is going on.
But I feel like it is intentional: the reader is confused just like the new comers in Driftwood are confused. We get to experience what they live through when they arrive in this strange new place. Moreover, after the first chapter briefly introducing Last, the reader encounters different narrators: they might be a way to show the diversity of Driftwood.
Last is the main character but he is only the narrator for a short time - snippets of the first chapter actually. After this, in the book, he becomes a kind of myth for some, for others a man they met and lived something with. Either way, they feel the need to tell or to listen to what happened to honor and/or remember him. Because Last disappeared, and no one knows what he became.
Last is a mystery for others and for himself: he doesn't know why he's still here, why he didn't know the same fate as everyone else. He clearly suffers from the situation and from the way people regard him. Nobody really knows anything about him, and the reader doesn't get much from the short time they spent in his head. I really would like more from this character!
How can I tell you about Driftwood without saying too much? If you want to enter blind, you'll be lost. If you read the synopsis, you might still be lost. But "there is grace in being lost".
This world is strange, terrible, and beautiful at the same. The whole concept is both poetic and horrible. I don't want to say too much, but if you read the synopsis, you know what the novel is about, and so you can guess why it can be sad.
This book is both beautiful and awful, both inspiring and depressing. Everything comes to an end one day and it is heartbreaking. This novel also emphasizes the need to remember and to keep cultures and traditions alive. They live as long as someone remembers.
I spoke earlier about strange names for people and worlds: the reader gets to know different cultures and different people throughout the novel. It is fascinating to imagine the different worlds, the streets of Driftwood, the borders, the different architectures, the different languages: it feels like Babel sometimes. I loved that there are places where some rituals feel like magic, where things are possible as long as the place is still in Driftwood. It felt magical, eerie, and I wanted to stay longer.
When the book ended - on yet another heartbreaking but beautiful scene -, I just wanted more. If another book comes out related to this world, I'll read it for sure!
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this fantasy eARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .
I love Marie Brennan and Tachyon Publications so I was excited to get this and it is awesome.
Have ye ever heard about the end of the world? Well Driftwood is the purgatory where worlds hang out just before they end forever. Yer world slowly starts disappearing before eventually being engulfed by the Crush. Driftwood itself is a collection of the last pieces and parts of a variety of worlds slowly being consumed and the people who inhabit them.
As the author says on her website:
"Driftwood is inherently a place of fragments, the large, coherent structure of a novel felt like fundamentally the wrong approach to storytelling in that setting. But there’s a way around that. Call it a fixup if you want — a book assembled out of pre-existing shorter material — or a mosaic novel, with the story being told through many voices and many sub-tales . . . It’s made up of the short stories I’ve written already, plus a novelette-length tale that’s new, and it’s all stitched together with a frame that gives context and greater meaning to the pieces within it. Which makes the text kind of like Driftwood itself.'
The novel's interconnected short story format was a little confusing at first cause ye be tossed right in. I quickly became fascinated by Driftwood. There is a character, Last, who is the frame holding the stories together. Last's world is long gone but somehow he didn't go with it. He passes his time being a translator and guide. His presence is felt all over Driftwood and he seems to be the only constant. He is a mystery with no good answers but lots of speculation.
I loved the world building, the different people, how the economies worked, the magic elements, and the mixing of cultures. The short story format was tantalizing and always left me wanting more. More about every world, more about the characters ye merely glimpse, and just more stories altogether.
The only real dissatisfaction came from the book ending too soon even though it was fantastic and kinda perfect in how it ended. I could certainly read more about Driftwood and while I loved the mosaic novel, I would also love more of Last's life and backstory.
So lastly . . .
Thank you Tachyon Publications!
This book was reviewed by me for American Library Association's Booklist. As a result, my review for Booklist is linked below.
Driftwood is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel by award winning author Marie Brennan
No. Actually, scratch this. This novel can’t really be categorized, and it will be hard to review with spoiling anything.
Driftwood is a place of quantum shenanigans where worlds, and their last survivors, wind up after their respective apocalypses. Time crawls to a slow pace there. The different worlds revolve around themselves in circles, and slowly crash into each other, creating places of mixed cultures. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. On the edge, you find the newest arrivals, and in the center, well, time might be slow, but all these worlds are slowly being pulled into their final destination, the « crush ». There is a Chiron like character, rumored the be the only one to have ever outlived the crush of his world, serving as some sort of narrator to readers, a guide to the denizens, and an upholder of the rules of this strange place.
This book is difficult to review and can’t be categorized as fantasy, because we don’t follow a team of adventurers in a quest to save themselves from oblivion. It is clearly stated that this can’t be done, The story is told from the point of view of many of the inhabitants, weaving a tapestry allowing us to understand the place and its rules.
Imagination run abounds and, even if it isn’t an humorous title as such, one can be reminded of Sir Terry Pratchett at times. And, actually, maybe Discworld is there somewhere on the edge.
Driftwood seems to be a world building exercise, and a great one at that as, in the end, many stories could be told in this strange universe Marie Brennan has created there. The book is fairly short, so I can’t imagine the author being finished with it.
Thanks to the aptly named Tachyon publications and Netgalley for the ARC provided in exchange for this unbiased review.
'Driftwood' by Marie Brennan is one of those rare stories you don't quite see coming. I don't mean in the sense that the twists of the tale itself are unpredictable, though at times.. that too is true, but rather in the way that it is so much bigger, so much more impactful and moving than one might ever suspect.
Last, a one-blooded survivor of Driftwood who acts as a guide across the lands, has lived more lifetimes than anyone could ever imagine. Long before we learn his story, he lived to see his world end.. taking with it the rest of his people and for some reason leaving him behind. Driftwood is a strange place surrounded by mist where worlds enter the Edges having just suffered their apocalypses, pulled slowly toward the middle.. called the Crush, breaking apart bit by bit along the way.
Once these worlds reach the Crush, they disappear or disintegrate.. taking with them any remaining people that belong to that world. The memories, the artifacts, the language.. all gone, never to return.
Between the Crush and the Edges lie the Rings.. a swath of lands referred to as the Shreds for the crumbling condition of the worlds passing through them. It's here where the Drifters, those of mixed blood who belong to no land, gather together in response to the rumor that Last has died. Drawn to a place of great reverence.. and no small amount of risk in its own right, to commemorate him. To share stories of great deeds, unbelievable myths, even accusations. To debate him as a mercenary, an immortal, a liar, a legend.. and even a god.
Told in a shifting narrative through many points of view, we learn of Last primarily through the eyes of those who knew him. Those who felt he helped them or theirs, those who believe him to be less than honorable, and those who may worship him. Though some stories came from his perspective as well and those were especially dear to me.
Each small tale is a gift of sight, told with the passion and often fondness of those who I dare say, considered him a friend. There's a great deal of love for him in their words and so I found it easy to love him too, very early on. There were moments of great kindness, loyalty, deep pits of despair, and sometimes even regret for his attempts to aid those who he came across.
To a degree, we do get to know some of those who knew him. Through their recollections, we learn their motivations and how his actions influenced their lives. Our time with each of them is brief, but it isn't really about them. This is the story of Last.. and honestly within just a few pages, he was the purpose for reading. I waited eagerly for each glimpse of him, each appearance, each choice he made.. and always seemingly with the intent to better someone's circumstance.
There is one scene that I was particularly fond of.. because it felt like I stumbled across a secret. A place called. Quinendeniua, where he went to make a trade. A gift of memories for her, in exchange for the gift of forgetfulness for himself. A place where he and the person he hoped to aid.. had to "move as one." They literally had to move as one in dance, to make this happen.. and a song sprung to mind.. a handful of lyrics. 'Hotel California'.. where "some dance to remember and some dance to forget."
I don't know that it was an intentional reference, but I loved it all the same. It really set the mood for me.
Each world was wildly different from each other. Each had its own special culture and many of them bore some kind of magic exclusive to them, that would exist only as long as they did. I thoroughly enjoyed learning of them, learning of the people, and all the amazing things that passed through Driftwood before succumbing to their end.
Initially, the first couple of pov shifts felt unclear, but beyond the opening pages that never occurred again. Actually, this is easily one of my favorite reads this year and I had no idea it would be. I thought it a quaint sounding story with an interesting premise, but my hopes could not have readied me for what it really was.. an absolutely stellar tale.. and I desperately hope there will be more.
Certainly, I have my own opinion about what happened to Last. I wonder what yours will be..
Read it and see...
In Driftwood, Brennan creates something akin to a mythology for an imagined world (or worlds - it's complicated!)
We are invited to visit a derelict amphitheatre amidst the ruins of a lost civilisation. Here, over one night, the life of a man named Last will commemorated. Known to all, yet a mystery to all, Last is more an article of faith than a person: elusive yet ever present, he's even regarded as a god by some and many of the stories about him which we will hear are full of praise. Yet others have come to contest them, to offer harsher interpretations.
During the course of that night we'll be invited to hear for ourselves. We forma judgement. We may just be here for the stories and the company. Regardless, we'll learn about Driftwood and the worlds that comprise it. It is certainly an odd construct, 'Patchwork of world fragments, illogic made concrete'. Worlds - universes? - that have suffered their own foretold apocalypses somehow survive in a decaying state, and come out of a strange mist to contact Driftwood. Starting, more or less intact, on the outer edge, they are pushed further inward by new worlds arriving behind them. So the place evolves as a kind of plate tectonics of worlds, the surviving fragments shrinking until what was once an entire world may be reduced to a valley or a few streets or a cellar - until eventually they are destroyed in the centre, in the singularity called Crush.
Yet so long as they do exist, these vestiges retain their identity as worlds, with their own physical laws, their own magics and sciences. So for example you had best not be left in that amphitheatre at dawn or you will come to no good - but in a neighbouring worked a few hundred meters away, you will be fine.
Trying to survive as long as they can, the inhabitants of the different worlds travel and trade with each other and guides are sorely needed.
The man called Last is one such guide. He's seen by many as the key to Driftwood, and perhaps their salvation from it. Surely he is one who has lived many lives, who understands many things? Surely he understands what is happening - and how to escape it?
Across these stories we see Last sought out to provide advice or protection. We see him try to hide from all this seeking: cornered, he will reluctantly assist but there is a sense of burden, that he's being pressed to offer more than he can bear. All those religions, all those sciences, those kings and emperors trying to maintain their customs, their rituals, their superiority in a world that's being ground down, they all want support, advice, solutions. Their suns are dimming, the stars their myths depend on winking out, their sacred sites are fading away. Often the outcome of the story is about moving on from this, accepting the inevitable and perhaps seeing something saved - even if just a story, an echo of a trace of memory so that those lost civilisations can say, we were here too.
The composite, entropy-wracked, amalgam that is Driftwood makes, then, a compelling background and offers a lot of scope for stories - presented here as uncertain, contradictory, collected, containing and referring to older and older layers that nobody really understands but which are still treasured. I was reminded of M John Harrison's Viriconium cycle which has something of the same atmosphere of a world wound down - I wouldn't be surprised if that place is crunching into the edge of Driftwood and just hasn't realised it yet.
A collection of simple stories, each self-contained but building into a cycle that is more than the sum of its parts, Driftwood is a fascinating and rewarding creation, conveyed in prose that can range from the solemn to the bitter to the darkly humorous but is never less than engaging. Brennan is at home sketching the linguistics of a world, bringing alive a marketplace ('...a thousand spices, each one distinct on the tongue. Aromatic flowers that danced in the gentle air, their seeds spreading I the ceaseless light. Serpents doxing in the warmth, sold as pets, as sacrifices, as food...') or imaging its complex religious life as she is evoking the long-lived, continually reborn bar, Spit in the Crush's Eye or describing with great flair the adventurers who brought the balloon to Driftwood and sought to map it - undermining the solemnity of purpose expected in a fantasy novel by saying they did it simply because it seemed a fun thing to do. Everyone might be doomed, swirling away into the pit, but there are lives to live and people here to live them. Finding a calm place between denial of the inevitable and obsession with it seems to be key - in Driftwood as in our own world(s).
A relatively short book, it's best read in one go, letting the story engulf you and carry you along.
I requested this book mostly on the premise that I have enjoyed the two books by Marie Brennan I had read before. Both were in some way part of her "Lady Trent" dragon fantasy series. This....sounded different. But as I felt that her strong writing was one of the biggest pluses for both of those other books, I was curious to see how this skill set would apply to a completely different story, one that seemed to much more science fiction and post-apocalyptic than high fantasy. And boy was I pleased!
It turns out that even worlds have a place to go when they die. Or, more accurately, when they're still in the process of dying. After whatever sort of apocalypse suits any particular world, it makes its way to Driftwood, a place made up of many different worlds slowly shrinking and moving inwards towards the Crush where the last bits of them and their people will disappear for good. But there is one being who seems to have been around forever, Last. No one remembers his world or his people, but many remember stories of ways that Last touched their lives. Now, when he has disappeared, maybe for good, they gather to share those stories.
I wasn't aware of this from the book description, but it turns out that this book is more of an anthology-like story than a plot-driven storyline about any specific character. I guess it's there enough in the blurb, but I didn't pick up on it. But it turned out to be a really nice surprise and a perfect way of creating such a unique, creative world. As much as this book is about Last and the influence he had on many people's lives, it's also about Driftwood. And by telling the story through these smaller narratives, we get to dip our toes into not only a bunch of really interesting new worlds, but into a variety of ideas and coping mechanisms that people have for dealing with death, the end of the world, and inevitability as a whole.
I also read the author's blurb at the back and discovered that the author was trained as an anthropologist. This all makes so much sense. Not only for this book, but now in hindsight looking at the way the Lady Trent books were written and their focus. But here, we can really see those skill sets shine. When describing all of these different worlds and peoples, it's not as simple as describing different ecosystems or different body types. No, Brennan creates religions, cultures, hierarchies, ways of speaking, all of the little things that really go into forming a "people."
Last was a great character in and of himself. But he is also the type of character that we know so little about (even by the end of the book), that it quickly becomes clear that what we do "know" about him are only impressions left by those telling their unique stories of him. But through them we can parse together a really interesting character who has existed in a space that, by definition, operates to undue existence. To be the only one of his kind. To not be "known" by anyone. To go on while the "world" is shifting constantly around you. Learning new things, but also constantly losing what you know. I really liked the brief insights we got into the kind of mentality that Last had to develop to survive. And that, while bleak at times, we're left with a character who values hope and love above everything.
The only real ding I have for this book was the ending. It felt like it came out of nowhere, was very sudden, and left me with a bunch of questions. On one hand, I'm ok with there still being secrets hidden in this world and about Last. Indeed, that's half of what makes the book so intriguing, the feeling that you've only scratched the surface. But there were a few "reveals," for lack of a better word, toward the end that left me scratching my head. I couldn't figure out whether I was missing some grand point or not. Part of me really feels like I am. But I re-read it several times and...I still don't really know what point the author was trying to come to, if any. Maybe others will have more success.
If you're a fan of this author, than this is definitely another of hers to check out. But, overall, if you're a fan of anthologies, science fiction, and stories that explore what "humanity" really is, this is an excellent read. If I had the "Beach Reads" list to do over, this is definitely the kind of book that I'd throw on there.
Rating 9: Beautifully written and incredibly unique. This is definitely a book to check out this summer!
Consider a universe in which dying worlds slowly accrete together, colliding and compressing into a super-condensed Core. The aggregate is known as Driftwood, with the outer rings being less reduced in size, the inner ones mere fractions of their former selves. Each world operates according to its own rules; some have magic, others don’t; some have more than one sun, and so forth. No matter what the geography or culture, one constant remains: the desperate need to preserve memory and identity against the final, irreversible collapse.
This present volume comprises short fiction, some previously published, others original, loosely framed but eminently readable as stand-alone pieces. Overlapping worlds, occasional familiar place names, a historical timeline, and a charismatic recurring character enhance the cohesiveness of the collection. For me, though, the unifying factor was the shared experience, across cultures and personalities, of inevitable loss through change.
In “The Second Coming,” Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” But in the world of Driftwood, things fall into a center from which nothing emerges, not even the memory of what was once vital and precious. Yet despite the sadness, in the skillful storyteller hands of Marie Brennan, the stories move through compassion to hope, with many memorable moments along the way.
How do I even begin to talk about this book?
Driftwood is the most creative, inventive, brilliant book I've read in ages. The worldbuilding is increidible: this is a story of the end of the world. But not The world. Rather, of all worlds.
Imagine a series of concentric rings constantly contracting. The outermost ring is made up of worlds that have just undergone their apocalypse. The outer edge of this ring is bounded by mist.
After a time, the mist will spit out new worlds having recently undergone their apocalypse, and the worlds in the outer ring will be pushed into the next ring. As it is smaller, parts of the worlds will disappear as they enter this ring. Perhaps now they are the size of countries, bounded on all sides by other worlds. Sometimes water can cross the boundaries, but sometimes not. Weather usually does not. So you can walk from desert into constantly pouring rain, etc.
The inner ring is known as the Shreds. Here, worlds have been reduced to city blocks, or neighborhoods and they are crammed together one atop the other in a constantly shifting mass of cultures and languages and species. The Shreds are populated not by distinct species, but those descended of many worlds known as Drifters.
At the center is the crush, where eventually all worlds go to die.
This story is told through a series of vignettes showing the interactions of various cultures and people with a guide named Last as they try to understand him and figure out where he has gone.
Last is widely believed to be immortal, sometimes believed to be a god. He is the last of his race, as his world died out long ago. Somehow he managed to live beyond it - but don't ask him how; not even he knows. He knows more Driftwood than anyone, and guides people across it to help them find what they need.
The writing is beautiful and each vignette showed a world and culture that I wanted to explore more. I would read an entire series about Driftwood. This is perfect as it is, a self-contained marvel, but it could easily expand indefinitely.
Driftwood is a charming, meditative, and often poignant collection of linked stories by Marie Brennan that mostly succeeds both in its individual tales and as a whole, though I had a few issues. But given that one of those is it was too short, it’s still an easy book to recommend.
The book’s general setting is the titular Driftwood. Think of it as a beach whose tide, instead of washing up the pebbles and the sea’s detritus, washes up instead dying worlds. Except instead of piling up on a sandy strand, the worlds just edge farther and farther inward, getting ever smaller before eventually disappearing forever. Or as one character explains to another whose world has just started the process:
Bits [of a world] just vanish. People die, or vanish with the bits, and though maybe you’re still having kids — some world do; some don’t — your population shrinks with your world. One day there’s a place on the other side of you, where before there was only Mist. They’ve had an apocalypse too. Different than yours, probably but the result is the same; there’s a fragment that survives, a fragment that isn’t done dying, and it came her like all the rest of them. They fade like you do, and as you fade you move inward, because the worlds that lie Crush-ward of you are doing the same thing. Eventually you’re just a little ghetto, hardly anything left. And then your reach the Crush, the heart of Driftwood. The last bits vanish — and then there’s nothing.
That speaker is the mysterious man known as Last, someone whose world disappeared long, long ago, but somehow he has not (some believe him to be eternal and/or a god), and so he’s spent his many years as a guide, “for people whose business takes them out of familiar territory and who want — or need — to learn the ropes where they’re going. Vigilantes, crosser-merchants, scholars.” The stories in the collection are driven by Last’s disappearance, which causes a group of Drifters to tell stories of how and why they sought out Last, and what he did for them. Chapters alternate between those flashback stories and brief interchapters amidst the storytellers, with the central present-time mystery being what happened to Last.
I absolutely love the setting, which serves up endless potential for stories, since each one reveals a new world to us. Driftwood has a bit of a Calvino-esque feel to it, particularly Invisible Cities, one of my favorite all time works of fiction. You’ve got visits to different worlds (cities), a sense of the fantastical, each new setting told as a story, some lyrical language. And, as with Calvino, a bit of a haunting sadness. Brennan uses the rich potential of the setting premise to deliver some beautifully original images/ideas, which I won’t ruin by noting here.
The setting is also perfectly attuned to the structure, with the fractured worlds being a nice echo of the fractured stories. Both even have mysteries attached: Why does this happen to the worlds (and what happens next when they go through the Crush) and what has happened to Last?
As with any collection, the individual stories vary somewhat, but I wouldn’t call any of these “weak.” I’m satisfied when I enjoy more than half the stories in a collection, happy at three-quarters and thrilled at more. I was firmly in the happy zone with Driftwood. My favorite stories were probably “Remembering Light” and “Into the Wind”, each of which deals in different ways with memory and honoring the past. The former also is a nice metaphor for immigration/refugees, with Last’s client desperately trying to keep her people connected to their heritage: “Ila’s great-grandchildren will be Drifters. They’ll know nothing of Oneua . . . as if I know anything about it. All I know are my grandparents’ stories! I was born after they fled here. We try to live as they did before, but it isn’t the same. We eat the food of the Brenak’I, wear fabric the Thiwd make from worms . . . all our rituals are guesses.” It’s a moving story, both eternal and topical. “Remembering Light” meanwhile is more personal in the narrative’s realm, but in its focus on memory and grief is even more universal.
While I mostly enjoyed the client stories, the intervening chapters acting as connective tissue felt stretched too thin. I can’t say they added much and in addition felt a bit awkwardly artificial. I would have been perfectly content with just the client stories themselves. Finally, the ending felt a bit abrupt (though I loved the last story). But those were minor complaints.
While the book seems to bring the story arc to a close, the Driftwood universe allows for an infinite number of stories. I, for one, would love returning there for more of them.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The character development was subtle in a myriad of ways, and the plot moves along quickly enough to keep interest. I could have used a little more expansion around the ending of the book, but on the whole found the experience very enjoyable.