Stepping away from the Polity universe of Asher’s previous two novels, Cowl deals with a far-future war between two factions of humanity, the Heliothane and the Umbrathane. The eponymous Cowl is a force-bred evolved human who has time-traveled back to the time when life began on Earth and is attempting to do … well, something. To assist, Cowl has the Tor Beast, a vast, ravenous being that sheds tors, small organic time machines that meld with its victims and send them back in time to Cowl as part of some sort of research Cowl is doing.
Trapped by tors in a bleak near-future are Tack, a vat-bred killer without a personality, and Polly, a teenage drug-abusing prostitute.
And then things happen. A lot of things. Things that really never make sense.
Apart from the byzantine plot, the biggest problem with Cowl is that it has no likable or interesting characters for the reader to care about, so it’s a bit of a slog to get through.
On the plus side, Asher has clearly thought very hard about the mechanics of time travel and also throws in a lot of really interesting biology as our protagonists travel back in time to the beginning of life.
But it’s hard to care.
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