No Return by Zachary Jernigan

(9.0/10) A deep book, entertaining yet challenging and full of contrasts.

Book of the Year 2013 (see all)

No Return is the debut novel from Zachary Jernigan, and I have to say that it's not like any other book I have ever read. In part a sci-fi / fantasy / far future / post apocalyptic genre mash-up, but also deep examination of the many facets of religion, spirituality and sexuality, No Return is a book that I think people will either love or hate.

"...while no sane man could deny the god’s existence, he could interpret events as he saw fit..."

Central to No Return is the God Adrash, a man-like being who watches over the planet of Jeroun from his orbit just outside the planet's atmosphere, a being with the capacity to destroy Jeroun and all who live on it with barely a thought. The story rotates through five viewpoint characters, exploring the paths that each person takes towards their eventual confrontation with Adrash. Vedas, Berun and Churls are companions, travelling to the city of Danoor so that Vedas can take part in vicious sectarian tournament where the victor will have the chance to appease Adrash and set the course of religion for the next ten years. Ebn and Pol are outbound mages of the elder race, people who are capable of using magic to achieve space flight and look upon the face of Adrash. Both want to eliminate the threat Adrash presents, but both have very different thoughts on how they should do it.

"As always, and despite the pain of holding the memory still, Ebn lingered on the god’s perfection."

On the surface, No Return tells the story of the journey towards the big tournament, but it is so much deeper if you are willing to look. As I mentioned before, No Return presents a deep examination of religion, spirituality and sexuality. This is achieved through the five different characters, with each character exhibiting different preferences for each characteristic. Picture religion, spirituality and sexuality as three sliding scales, with each character existing in different places on each scale. Vedas, for example, is a celibate man with a strong affinity for his religious sect, but spirituality is not something he considers with much weight. This contrasts well Churls who is completely confident in her own sexuality, who belittles those who follow religion, but who has some very deep thoughts about spirituality and Adrash. Over the course of the book we get to see how the events in the story shape each one of the characters, sometimes shifting them along one of the scales I mentioned before, and other times reinforcing how they feel about religion, spirituality or sexuality. Jernigan does a fantastic job at showcasing as many sides as he can of these three different characteristics, and he does so without prejudicing or preaching in favour of one side. It is left to the reader to formulate their own opinion.

"He had never looked upon the act of sex with revulsion. Instead, he simply did not consider it an option."

Jernigan doesn't shy away from the visualization in his writing, and I think this is the part where people will either love it or hate it. There is an abundance of graphic violence and graphic sex in this book, which I think in its raw presentation adds to the philosophical musings of the book, but I could understand if others thought of it as gratuitous. The fight scenes in this book are brutal and have been very well constructed, so if you are an action-oriented reader I think there will be plenty for you to enjoy in this book. That said, this is a slow paced book, one that carefully examines different situations, one where chapters overlap so that you can experience events from different points of view. This didn't bother me, but it is a change from all the lightning paced books I've been reading and it is something I think you should be aware of going into this book. There is some great action, but there is a lot of talking and introspection in between.

“Glad you did that,” he said in his thick Ulomi accent. “Been looking for a fight all night. It’s too polite, this city.”

I haven't read a book this deep in quite some time. No Return is a book of contrasts, a book that not only shows the extreme ends of an argument, but all the shades of grey in between. If you are looking for a fun Sunday afternoon read then you might want to keep looking, but those who are looking for an entertaining yet challenging book, I think you will love No Return.

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