Rainbow Bridge by Gwyneth Jones
Gollancz, 2006, 12.99, 374pp
ISBN 0-575-07715-8
See also my review of Midnight Lamp This review first appeared on The SF Site
When we last saw them, the Triumvirate - Ax, Sage and Fiorinda - were at their lowest ebb following an incredible and utterly unstoppable invasion by the newly ascendant Chinese. The Rock'n'Roll Reich had been captured, were prisoners - or worse, puppets - of England's new overlords. Now there are friends to be rescued or mourned, post-apocalyptic rock'n'roll hordes to be calmed, invaders to be reassured regarding the realities of magic, and, as always, an entire country to be talked down from a very high ledge. Where they find time to fit any music in, I do not know.

If this were a novel written on the other side of the Atlantic then I can't help thinking that Chinese invasion would be the signal for a vastly different novel about massive and violent resistance, with guns, guns, guns! The spirit of freedom/democracy/liberty would rise up, unquenchable, to bloodily wrest the continent back from the forces of tyranny and back to its rightful owners.

In the real world, however, things are often done rather differently. Call "the old country" a spent and decadent force, if you will - god knows, in Jones' world it's certainly a battered and wearied force - but over here we've seen enough incalculable bloodshed and war to know that it's seldom a very effective solution, and Jones has the only characters to try and actually fight the Chinese meet a the same fate as Poe's The Black Cat. When surprised and overwhelmed by force it's sometimes best to try and, judo-like, use an opponent's strength against her.

The Reich, having seen the available alternatives, have decided that the Chinese offer the best hope for a future, as in, a future for humanity in toto, rather than simply a future for formerly-Great Britain, and so, once more, one final time, they step forward to win the hearts and minds of a generation. But, as always, this is no lighters-aloft Bill And Ted-style utopianism (although, Wyld Stallynz are arguably their closest analogue), this is another bitter struggle to preserve the spirit and the people of England, and perhaps even to give them a glimpse of a light at the end of their cold, damp revolutionary tunnel.

I can't help thinking that this review is almost academic in many ways. Anyone who's read the previous four instalments in the series is just about bound to read this fifth and final one. No one who's come this far with a Gwyneth Jones series is likely to stop now - you already know whether or not you like her work, or at least, whether you like this work - one can never be quite sure with Jones, who never writes comfortable or comforting generic fiction. If you've come this far then you probably knew from about page 7 of Bold As Love that you simply had to read to the end.

I really rather think Bold As Love et al. will not have been to many people's taste. Not only is it so utterly steeped in England, in the English and in so many centuries of braided Anglic (folk)lore that even we English scratch our heads at some of the references, there's also the superficial resemblance to the rock'n'roll it loves and celebrates so well. That is to say, Jones' series has been rambling, pompous, faintly ridiculous and overly sentimental. That said, it is simultaneously very much to a great many people's taste (mine included) precisely because, again, it is so very rock'n'roll: outrageous, sincere, spirited, and with a heart the size of the sun.

I'm going to miss Ax, Fiorinda and Sage terribly now that their adventures are done - not that they haven't earned themselves a quiet life in a tax haven somewhere warm, but as much as I've often rolled my eyes during their time together, at their perpetuation of a musical dream that seems, in this time of endless rounds of Pop Idol, a crazy lost dream; as much as it's sometimes been a stretch, I've come to like them rather a lot.

Similarly, there's nothing being written at the moment with this much ramshackle style: a narrative flow that veers from viewpoint to viewpoint, microscopic to astronomic, internal to external; that alternately reveals so much of our heroes' careworn hearts while giving up so little of their careful plans. It's always had a scuzzy feel to it; rough, but immediate. The narrator is at once there, as the story plays out, and somehow, outside, omniscient. It's a remarkably clever trick to pull off so consistently, and I suspect there are many more to be teased out of this series in years to come, in any number of far more academic studies than this humble summary.

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