We start in the 'godscraper' Spearpoint, a very-far-future Babel tower that reaches out of the atmosphere. Or we think it does; one quirk of this place, for the people who live on the ramps and ledges along its in-tapering sides, are real-world technological discontinuities: in one zone futuristic technology works; in another zone lower down, future-tech simply won't work, but late-twentieth-century machines (cars, guns) will; lower down again and only steam technology will work; lower again and you're in 'horseworld'. People can pass from zone to zone, but they need 'anti-zonal' drugs to overcome the debilitating and sometimes fatal effects of the passage. Very neat concept. We start in Neon Heights, a late-20th-century Noir-ish city; and we start with Quillon, a beanpole Mortuary Pathologist and Doctor and, most of all, virtuous man. Above are the celestial levels, where posthuman 'angels' live. The novel starts when one of these angels falls from his proper level and crashes into Neon City, coming thereby to Quillon's attention. From there, and without ado, it all kicks off.
I started thinking that Reynolds was riffing off Jeter's neglected Dickian masterpiece Farewell Horizontal (1989); but where another SF writer would have moved her characters and story up-zone, into the futuristic possibilities of the higher terraces of Spearpoint, Reynolds takes us in exactly the opposite direction: down to the ground. If we employed chess-notation in reviews, this would merit an '!'. Quillon, it turns out, is a surgically altered angel; other angels are now trying to kill him, and he flees down into the broader world -- also afflicted by different zones (including one, the Blight, in which even the 'mechanisms' of biological life cannot work). He avoids Mad-Max feral Skullboys and brain-eating Cyborgs, hooking up with a massive fleet of airborn dirigibles called 'the Swarm.' Reynolds explains enough of his world (the origin and nature of the zones, Spearpoint's purpose and the like) for the reader not to feel cheated; but not so much that it all feels pat.
My one main criticism is that the narrative momentum sags, quite badly, for about a hundred pages somewhere in amongst pp.200-350 (indeed; I'd say the book is about 100 pages too long). But just as I was become narkled, Reynolds threw this superb Chris-Foss-ness in my mind's direction:
Between the Swarm and the mountain lay a tremendous wall ... two or three hundred spans high and taller again where the towers and battlements rose. It spanned the horizon to the limits of visibility ... But the wall was not the most awesome thing, nor even the second. The second most awesome thing was a wreck. It had crashed down into the wall five or six leagues to port, sagging broken spined withone half on the nearside and the other half on the far side, like a colossal maggot trying to wriggle over an obstacle. It was not an airship. It had never been an airship. The wreck's shape echoed an airship's envelope, but there the similarity ended. It was much too large, to begin with: easily a league from one end to the other, and perhaps a tenth of a league in height. It had ruptured as it crashed onto the wall, its upper surface zipping open like an overcooked sausage. The skin was weathered white, offset by the faded remnants of orange or red markings: oblique slashes and hyphens, chains of angular heiroglyphics. The vessel's interior was definitely not hollow. It was full of tight-packed machinery, broken and bent.Nobody does this sort of Fossossity like Reynolds. And if this isn't splendid enough, he really nails it when he adds: 'It glinted with absurd, festering detail, like a cliff seen through binoculars.' Excellent!