Medium: ebook (242 pages in print)
Overview (No Spoilers):
I often struggle with staying focused on the task at hand. If this doesn’t sound like you, congratulations, teach me your ways! Perhaps there are too many things vying for my attention all at once, or subconsciously my brain is on the lookout for danger. Maybe the tasks are more on the trivial side. In any case, I tend to have music running in the background as a way to help me concentrate on whatever I’m doing. And studies have shown that this does work, so who am I to argue with science? Wait, that’s exactly the kind of thing I would do… What experiments were carried out? Have the findings been peer-reviewed? Have there been any follow-ups suggesting that — I digress. All of this is to say that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Limbo, a book I recently read, has a specially curated playlist to enjoy while perusing its pages. It makes for quite the experience. What’s that? You haven’t heard of this book before? Let’s fix that!
Limbo is a standalone book by Thiago d’Evecque that was penned during NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month). It was first published in July 2015 in Portuguese (d’Evecque is Brazilian), with the English edition reviewed here released in November 2019. Although I probably would’ve taken it as a personal challenge to read this in its native tongue had the 2015 edition been submitted (thank you, Google Translate!), I’m grateful it didn’t come to that (thank you, Thiago d’Evecque!). This book has already found success, winning the e-Book Cover Design Award in Fiction from The Book Designer for entries in November 2019. And as I recall, while making selections for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off cover contest, one of the Bookish Boffins mentioned that the more they looked at Limbo, the more they liked it. But how do I feel about the contents of the book itself, you ask? Allow me to elaborate…
We first meet the nameless narrator of this journey as they are roused from a deep sleep, discovering that they are a luminous being with no memory of anything prior to here and now. This character – I’ll dub them ‘MC’ for ‘main character’ – is tasked with recruiting twelve individuals in Limbo whose combined qualities offer the best chance of saving humanity from certain destruction. No pressure. In general, Limbo is organized in a systematic way where each chapter focuses on one such individual, revealing their backstory and why they are an ideal fit for this mission, with our protagonist going to great lengths to convince them to take up the cause. Unfortunately, these ‘negotiations’ between MC and the potential-Earth-saving characters start to feel a little repetitive in later chapters, as if following a standard operating procedure. Along the way, MC is grudgingly joined by Chuck, a god who thrives on chaos and fear. Their exchanges tend to lighten the mood, although Chuck is most definitely not politically correct.
As new characters are introduced, the reader may discover that there’s something familiar about them, because in actuality, d’Evecque has constructed a storyline that incorporates individuals from tales that already exist. Some folks are well-known, most were new to me, but for each, d’Evecque modifies their stories ever so slightly to fit the narrative he wants to explore. Overall, I found Limbo to be well-written (though not error-free), with beautiful passages describing the surroundings, recounting memories, and exploring why MC is so intent on completing this mission. That said, there were also moments where I grimaced because an action or word choice was a little disconcerting. In my opinion, the best part about this book is that, with each new character, MC is reminded of something from their past, allowing them to slowly piece everything together over the course of the story to an unexpected, satisfying conclusion. Now that’s character development! And although it’s listed as another standalone, given what I know from Limbo, I’m curious to see what unfolds in d’Evecque’s Tales from Limbo.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound!):
- Why are crows (or perhaps ravens?) displayed on the cover? While there occasionally had been birds in the background as MC met with the chosen souls in their personal haunts across Limbo, I don’t recall any species being identified… Alternatively, is this how the reader should envision the dark, in-between spaces where other souls are crying out in agony? Could this be another reference that went over my head?
- Chuck was frequently referred to as an ‘abyssal god’, but it wasn’t until he mentioned that he missed his ‘submerged home’ that I realized he had lived underwater on Earth. I may or may not have misread it as ‘abysmal’ instead… I mean, I wasn’t exactly enamored with Chuck’s racist, sexist, and crass persona; however, I did like how Eleos referred to Chuck’s growth: ‘He is like a brush that has always seen black but has come to taste the full color spectrum.’ Side note: why were some of the other residents of Limbo able to hear Chuck? I’d say the common thread is being non-human, but Scheherazade could interact with him as well…
- Per MC: ‘If humans can create their gods, I can create mine too. It takes one heart believing to bring a dream to life.’ With this in mind, can a god be manifested by someone in Limbo? For Chuck, where would he return to, Limbo or Earth, since he would no longer be ‘a forgotten god’? If Chuck did end up back on Earth, would his return counteract any of the twelve souls that were sent to prevent the apocalypse? Switching gears, what would happen if MC failed and not all twelve souls were sent back to Earth? The fact that there are twelve is more symbolic than anything else, and even then, it’s not promised that sending them to Earth will actually put humanity back on the right track…
- When individuals are sent from Limbo back to Earth, they relinquish their old memories. Without past experiences shaping who they are, how do you know their virtues and abilities haven’t changed? I suppose I’m imagining them more as empty vessels when I should envision them as retaining their mission without remembering why (like MC)…
- Interestingly, no two souls necessarily experience Limbo in the same way. This is explained by MC, stating that: ‘for humans, the Limbo is nothing but the spiritual representation of what they consider the afterlife’ and ‘this place is what you make it.’ What I’m wondering is, can you change it? Or is that unlikely because that would require either forgiving past discretions or recognizing that you’re actually dead? What about those returning from their second trip on Earth who’d been torturing themselves in Limbo before? Do they just resume torturing themselves?
- When MC reached Roland in Limbo, the paladin was still adorned in armor. It was noted, however, that ‘it wouldn’t protect him from a spiritual weapon.’ This got me thinking, considering how battered MC got over the course of the book and how an archangel was needed for any chance of healing that type of wound, is there anything that would protect you from a spiritual weapon in Limbo? Anything beyond just being better at wielding your own weapon? Additionally, if spiritual weapons house unwitting spirits in them and are ‘used in planes other than Earth’, how do these ‘sons of clay’ end up with them prior to Limbo? Did they all have their own version of the Lady of the Lake offering it up like Arthur with Excalibur?
- If the eight immortals are truly immortal, do they exist both on Earth and Limbo (since they never would have died), with their bodies in one and their souls in another? I know they chose to be in Limbo to meditate because they’re on the path to enlightenment, but could they go back to Earth without someone else’s help? Did it have to be done this way with MC so He Xiangu would be human and without memories? Why didn’t He Xiangu participate in the fight? Did she not feel the need to ‘ward off the boredom of immortality’ like the others? Why didn’t she get a cool nickname like the rest of the eight immortals?
- When talking with Eleos, MC learns that this is not the first time that they’ve visited her temple, but rather they had dropped by twice before – once to send Eleos back to Earth, and once to ‘heal from a lost love. To forget.’ What events on Earth caused MC to send souls before? If the second visit was due to heartache, would that have been just after the Rebellion?
- Final Thoughts: Like me, MC is an unreliable narrator, something that is made abundantly clear as more information comes to light and the false memories retooled. What a trip!
Austere: stern and cold in appearance or manner
Carapace: a protective, decorative, or disguising shell
Cur: a surly or cowardly fellow
Doughty: marked by fearless resolution; valiant
Endue: imbue, transfuse
Execration: an object of curses; something detested
Feint: to lure or deceive with a feint, which is a mock blow or attack on or toward one part in order to distract attention from the point one really intends to attack
Harangue: a ranting speech or writing
Iniquity: a wicked act or thing; sin
Lintel: a horizontal architectural member spanning and usually carrying the load above an opening
Protract: to prolong in time or space
Randy: lustful, lecherous
Relief: sculpture or a sculptural form executed in a mode in which forms and figures are distinguished from a surrounding plane surface
Retinue: a group of retainers or attendants
Sepulchral: suited to or suggestive of a sepulchre, which is a place of burial
Sunder: to break apart or in two; separate by or as if by violence or by intervening time or space
Vainglory: excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one’s achievements
Verdant: green in tint or color