In this final volume of the British writer's Buckmaster trilogy, set 900 years in the future, a small religious community lives in what were once the fens of eastern England. Perhaps the world's last human survivors, they find themselves stalked by a force that draws ever closer, offering both a promise and a threat: a place called Alexandria.
A mixture of creepy fireside tale and ecological forewarning—shot through with supernatural horror ... If the plot is complex, the writing is a linguistic delight ... If there is a nagging doubt about Alexandria it is with the gender essentialism that underpins the book—man is fire, woman is water, woman is seductress, man is seduced: each has their fixed place in the world. But as a story about human failure and enduring belief, it succeeds. Kingsnorth’s novel is both of time and out of time, and it posits some of the most urgent questions of this millennium: where are we going, and what will become of us.
... In his summoning of our era’s most urgent themes—environmental collapse, the rise of artificial intelligence, the destructive conflict between the individual and the collective—Kingsnorth is clearly striving for contemporary relevance. Yet the way these themes are presented seems disappointingly old-fashioned. The first third of the novel has a quality of mystery that draws the reader under its spell; sadly, Kingsnorth is not content to let his mysteries speak for themselves. The bulk of the book is taken up with long and preachy infodumps ... removing the need to examine history’s moral grey areas, ignoring many of the systemic injustices that lie behind what Kingsnorth would have us interpret more simply as stupidity and greed. Similarly, while he might appear to promote gender equality by presenting the Order as a matriarchy and God as female, his far-future society seems peculiarly obsessed with replicating the heteronormative morality ... Kingsnorth is clearly writing to challenge himself as much as his audience, and his greatest strength lies, as ever, in the power and vision of his landscape writing. I just wish that, as a novel, Alexandria possessed the moral complexity and imaginative insight that would enable it to succeed in its own ambitions.
The cantos...are neither sufficiently coherent nor sufficiently substantial to give the reader a clear understanding of the timeline that precedes the narrative; nor are they significantly mystical or stylistically interesting enough to excuse such opacity ... The imagery the characters deploy is thin and narrow, their emotional range limited. They speak only with absolute, terrible sincerity ... Reading the first half of Alexandria is like finding oneself in a half-furnished house, the rooms mostly cleaned out, a bleakness and incompleteness pervading everything. But then, 179 pages in, a new voice enters the text and transforms Alexandria into a far more interesting novel than it sets itself up to be ... Kingsnorth holds both lines of argument in a delicate balance—that man is the destroyer of Earth and AI brought restitution to the natural world by ethically removing humans from it; and that Wayland’s creation of Alexandria is the story’s true destructive force, its emergence functioning as an act of war against mankind. The dexterity with which Kingsnorth shifts between these two perspectives prevents Alexandria from becoming lumped together with other trope-ridden, science fiction narratives of heroic man versus the evil machine.