I couldn't resist ('The Finest Novel of 2011?..c'mon I'm only human). This is the second review I got on Amazon.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest Novel of 2011?, 31 Dec 2010 By Quicksilver (UK)
The premise of 'The Demi-Monde' is so simple and compelling, it's hard not wish you'd thought of it first. This fine idea, coupled with some excellent thriller writing, would make for a fine novel. Blend this with some intriguing philosophical musings, more than splash of Steampunk, and the result is a cult-classic in waiting.
The 'Demi-Monde' is a computer generated world, built to train the soldiers of the US army. The novel is set in the near future where traditional warfare is over. The wars that Uncle Sam finds itself embroiled in are dirty and ill-defined. A recent advance in computer technology has allowed a vast world to be built, where conflicts mirror this style of 'Asymmetric Warfare'.
Such is the power of the computer, the denizens of the Demi-Monde are indistinguishable from those who life on the outside in 'Real Life'. Many of Demi-Monde's inhabitants are mirrored on the worst of humanity. In here, Beria and Robespierre rub shoulders with Lucretia Borgia and Reinhard Heydrich. These charismatic psychopaths vie for supremacy in a densely populated, fabricated world. The intention of its creators is that it would be Hell on Earth.
It is into this boiling pot that army recruits are dropped. Unsurprisingly, something isn't quite right. Somehow the President's daughter has been lured inside, and all the entrances closed down. Many sinister beings live inside the Demi-Monde, and now some of them want out.
It is quite hard to describe quite how good this first instalment (Winter) is. The scope of the idea is breathtaking and the Demi-Monde and its inhabitants brilliantly realised. The religious and political structures of the Demi-Monde, mirror those on Earth, but are exaggerated. The Demi-Monde is a place of excess, where attitudes towards gender, race and sexuality are taken to extremes. Rees uses his world to probe how different these views are from our own. Rees also poses questions about the nature of reality. If a computer can generate a life form that is indistinguishable from a human, do they gain human rights? Is pulling the plug mass murder? This book asks a host of questions, and better still, only hints at answers.
All this would be admirable, but wasted if the story was poor, or the action dull, but this is far from the case. The characters, though a little thin (after all most of them are computer generated) are heroic, varied and, in the main, believable. The action is relentless. The book is filled with spying, lying, tricking, fighting and er...dancing. It's wonderful. Being the first book of four, the novel's ending is left wide open with more cliffhangers than an entire series of 'Lost'. If you love steampunk novels, then you'll love the Demi-Monde. If you like reading, then you'll love 'The Demi-Monde'. If you like breathing, there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy the 'Demi-Monde' too. I hope I read many books as good as this in 2011, but somehow I doubt it.