I received an advanced copy of Truth of the Divine in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley for giving me the chance to read it!
In trying to sort out my many, many thoughts and feelings about Truth of the Divine, Lindsay Ellis’s second book and the sequel to Axiom’s End, I don’t think I can get much further than what I said to my roommate a few days ago, as the two of us were chatting in our shared kitchen.
I was telling her that I had spent most of that day powering through a book I was supposed to review for my blog, and that I was hoping to finish it by that night. She asked me if the book was good, at least.
“I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable read,” I said after a long pause, “but it’s definitely an interesting read.”
Truth of the Divine is the second book in the Noumena series, and as with most sequels, it’s a little bit difficult to summarize without giving away plot spoilers, but here’s my best attempt. The book deals with the consequences of the massive political upheaval that occurred in book 1. Our protagonist, Cora, is acting as the official interpreter between her alien friend Ampersand and the government agency keeping tabs on him. At the same time, though, she’s navigating the new bond between her and Ampersand, which allows them to sense each other’s feelings. Between her new ability to feel what her alien refugee friend is feeling, and her own trauma from the events of book 1, Cora is, to put it lightly, straight up not having a good time. And that’s not good, because with the secret of the extraterrestrials now out to the public, the world needs her more than ever.
Enter Kaveh, a journalist and author who’s worked a little too closely with Cora’s own father, Nils Ortega. He’s out to prove that the aliens count as “persons” and are thus entitled to full human rights. When he learns a little bit too much about Cora and Ampersand’s situation, Cora has no choice but to trust him. Together, they try to do something that’s looking less and less possible with every passing day: convince the world that Ampersand and his fellow extraterrestrials deserve to be met with compassion, rather than hostility.
I won’t beat around the bush here: this is a very difficult read. There are content warnings at the start of the book. Read them. And take your time reading the book, because believe me, it’s a lot to take in in one sitting.
Truth of the Divine explores, in raw, excruciating detail, Cora’s PTSD stemming from the events of the first book. It depicts suicidal ideation, self-harm, panic attacks, and other heavy topics that, again, are listed in the content warnings. None of these things are taken lightly, or included just for the sake of it, but they are certainly present. It makes the book very difficult to read, but it also gives the reader a really good sense of the emotional toll everything is taking on the protagonist.
The book also expresses a kind of existential despair that I think will ring true for a lot of readers in 2021, in the midst of a global pandemic and a climate crisis. I was surprised by how familiar so much of this book felt. I saw the world facing unprecedented historical events, global unrest, mass panic, and an impending extinction event, and thought, hey, that sounds familiar!
Is that good? That’s probably not a very good sign, is it?
Seriously, though, I would urge readers to be careful when approaching Truth of the Divine, because it depicts some really heavy, really intense emotions and situations. But I think that it also has the potential be cathartic, even helpful, to readers who may have had to deal with some version of the emotions the characters experience in this book. I certainly appreciated it.
The other big storyline in Truth of the Divine is how the world at large is responding to the knowledge that there are aliens on Earth. How do we define a “person?” If aliens count as people, are they entitled to full human rights? What would it mean to extend full human rights to aliens? Do we need new laws pertaining to aliens – laws that account for their unique abilities? And if we deny them rights, will that open the door to further restrictions on the rights of actual human beings? All of these questions and more are explored as the world tries to figure out what the hell to do about the aliens in their midst. We see people respond to the situation in typical human ways. Some turn to conspiracy theories, authoritarianism, and bigotry, while others show remarkable curiosity and compassion.
(As an aside, this book includes several passages from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and as someone who just handed in a thesis on international refugee law, those passages evoked many strong reactions in me. I don’t know if it would have been better or worse if I had read it while actually writing my thesis.)
But enough about the heavy stuff. If you’ve read Axiom’s End, and/or you’re a fan of Lindsay Ellis’s, I know which question is at the front of your mind. It’s a question I was also asking before I picked up this book. It’s what everyone wants to know: Do Cora and Ampersand fuck?
The answer is no. And no, that’s not a spoiler; it is explicitly stated in the content warnings that they will not fuck in this book. I’m sorry if that’s disappointing. However, Cora and Ampersand’s relationship does evolve quite a lot in this book, and in really interesting ways. We also get to meet other aliens, and see them develop complex relationships with other humans. Keep in mind that the central question in Truth of the Divine is that of non-human personhood. The question of whether or not humans can form complex interpersonal relationships with the extraterrestrials is pretty significant to this issue. If you weren’t sold on human/alien relationships after Axiom’s End, I think this sequel will convince you. If were were already sold on it, then I think you’ll enjoy this book.
I would be lying if I said that I had fun reading Truth of the Divine. I can’t sit here and say that I tore through it, or that I was always excited to sit down and read it, or that I wish I could spend more time living in this world. But what I can say is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I finished it. My heart still twists with love and sympathy whenever I think about the characters that exist in this universe, and the challenges this world is facing. This is a deeply human story. It’s an honest look at human nature, at human societies, and at the difference between those things. It’s painful and raw and dark, but so honest and so inspiring at times. It hurt to read, but not necessarily in a bad way.
I gave it a solid 4 stars on Goodreads.
Truth of the Divine comes out October 12th, 2021.