I felt that my position in relation to the book’s capacious intellect and imagination and moral purpose was a vertiginous one. It was thrilling and frightening, reading this book ... publishers...should be leaping at the chance to publish something this important, this beautiful, and this much fun ... each time I thought the book was done surprising me, Knox flexed her own golden gauntlet and opened another gate and flung me through it. At the end, I was shaken and grateful for the worlds I’d seen ... When I was finished with The Absolute Book I wanted everyone I knew to read it so I could discuss it with them ... [a] majestic, brain-bending novel[.]
The Absolute Book is a threaded needle embroidering itself into being ... It’s also as much a shape-changer as Shift, moving from genre to genre with dizzying grace ... Reading the book is like holding folds of shot silk to the light, finding green flash in something that looks purple, and appreciating how thoughtfully the warp and weft embrace each other. But when I finished it, I was left wondering whether it had cohered; it felt as if I’d been admiring all the cogs and gears animating a fine watch while uncertain about whether or not it kept time. Hasty resolutions and an odd departure of an epilogue somewhat unbalance the whole. But I’m in awe of it, ultimately, its precision and care, and its wry, understated humor.
The Absolute Book has the feel of an instant classic, a work to rank alongside other modern masterpieces of fantasy ... a tongue-in-cheek homage to...overblown literary detective stories as well as a triumph of literary fantasy, and this knowing, feisty, humorous contribution to the genre is a hefty piece of work. There is a lot to keep track of here, not only in terms of characters but in terms of worlds ... The strands of real-world myth, folklore and fairytale from which Knox weaves the philosophical rationale behind what is in its appearance and mechanics a classic portal fantasy are as richly diverse as her characters, revealing a fluent knowledge of her predecessors as well as a solidly practical grasp of magical storytelling ... a book like Knox’s offers the assurance that a more forward-thinking, experimental strand of fantasy is possible, and thriving.
... worth the wait ... accomplished ... The prose of The Absolute Book is solid and direct, neither succumbing to flashiness nor aspiring to poetry. It keeps us grounded in Knox’s human concerns even as the narrative races us past the descending angels and the rising demons, through the roots of Yggdrasil and under the stars of another sky ... it’s easy to imagine that Knox intends 'absolute' in its sense of 'all-encompassing,' because it seems as if she’s trying to squeeze every genre of fiction between two covers. At various points, The Absolute Book resembles a book about books, a psychological crime novel, a romance, a portal fantasy, a technothriller, a historical fantasy, and an allegory ... This surfeit of stories, this melding of modes and mixing of genres, is The Absolute Book’s greatest strength, but also the source of its occasional frustrations. There’s so much to observe and to consider and to enjoy, yet Knox lets vital characters languish offstage for hundreds of pages and, more importantly, abandons intriguing themes ... unwieldy and untidy; like the mercurial Shift, it forever changes form and refuses to be pinned down. It’s flawed and exuberant and generous and original; the readers of this book may have some reservations, but they will have few regrets.
This is a bewitching, frustrating, strange and perverse novel. And it’s quite right that it should be this way ... Knox takes a hefty risk with reader sympathy too, baiting us with Taryn’s story and then switching to the grander machinations. Yet I wanted to stick with it, largely because of the wonders Knox can summon—a river conjured into a wall of water to shield soldiers from a fire, a boy turned into a fish, a pair of talking sister ravens ... It’s also because the world view of the book, specifically the world view embodied in Taryn, is an appealing one set against the vogue for cancellation ... Overburdened as this novel might be by all the astonishment it contains, it’s still a marvellous argument for stories.
Ms. Knox has called up a battery of mythical information to enrich her story ... Who ever said books about books are dull? The contrast Ms. Knox sets up between our world-as-it-is and fairyland’s world-as-it-might-be is at once sad and enticing, even with the lingering threat of prices that must be paid. One warning: This is a long and complex book, and to get the best out of it, you may need to read it twice. All those shifts and hints give the book depth, but you need to dig.
Knox’s restrained, poetic writing works well with this ever-spiraling, mind-blowing optical illusion of a novel, which marries myths and lore from Celtic, Norse, and Judeo-Christian traditions with a variety of literary references. Weird and enigmatic, occasionally slow but never dull, this grand ode to Story itself is one that begs for a reread.
All these threads—Taryn’s loss, her desire for revenge, her complicity in murder, and the mysterious box that can’t be burned—are drawn together slowly and carefully over the course of this densely woven novel. Elements that might strain credulity in a lesser writer’s hands here read like simple facts. In particular, Knox has created a faerie realm that’s seductively tactile. The ending is a little too neat and solves a problem that’s at best tangential to the main plot, but overall the book is such a rich feast that it’s well worth reading. This darkly luminous fantasy reads like a mystery, thoroughly and wonderfully transporting readers to another world.
... [a] sprawling and engrossing epic ... The story expands like inverse nesting dolls, beginning as a slow-burn thriller and gradually revealing itself as epic fantasy, even as it retains its core of real-world suspense. Bookish and withdrawn, Taryn is an unexpected chosen one and resists many of the standard heroic tropes. Knox bites off a bit more than she can chew, though, and several questions are left unanswered, but readers will still be impressed by the work’s sweeping scope. This ambitious fantasy is a master class in blending genres.