Lifelode – Jo Walton

Book cover: Lifelode - Jo WaltonI honestly don’t know quite how much I like Lifelode, or indeed what to say about it. I think I just have to go with ‘it’s delightful’, in the end. It embraces the mundane, mostly describing a very small and very human drama (a complicated 4-way marriage being unsettled by the arrival of a handsome young man and an acerbic and unexpectedly alive great-grandmother) that just happens to be punctuated by little acts of magic that people take entirely for granted. Then at the end events get a bit out of hand and feel more like any other fantasy novel.

I loved that much of the book describes Taveth making dinner (and very ordinary dinner too – egg fried rice; lamb with peas – not the elaborate mediaeval cuisine of Westeros et al); and that pivotal conversations between life partners take place over everyday household tasks (as they do); and that they display their affection for one another by doing very small things (fetching a bucket of water) rather than needing to save the world with a magic sword. I also very much appreciated that Chayra recognises that Taveth really is having her cake and eating it with regards to her love life (even though initially it looks like the other way round), even if I didn’t appreciate some of Chayra’s behaviour.

Ironically, I probably loved it for all the reasons I normally avoid swathes of ‘mundane’ fiction. Putting the humanity back into fantasy? Putting the magic back into normal life? Whatever it’s doing, I enjoyed it. There were also some seriously interesting conceits – such as time and magic flowing more slowly as you travel from East to West, and the nature of the gods.

It becomes less interesting in some ways as it becomes more traditional fantasy – when Hanethe’s past pursues her into Applekirk, bringing trouble that feels epic by this point, given the scale of the narrative. It’s an opportunity to explore the broader applications of magic in this universe, but it also feels weird, unexpected and surreal after the domestic focus – which just goes to show how successful the small scale has been, as I felt as blindsided as a reader as the characters were in-world by the mayhem disrupting their lives.

It won’t fly at all for those who dislike present tense narration – although there’s a reason for it, and it’s a clever way of bringing home how certain characters perceive the world, it’s not always easy to swallow and it deliberately obscures chronology in places.

But for me, it’s another charming outing by , and one I suspect I’ll revisit in the future.