I’ve been a fan of this author ever since I listened to the oh, so fantastic alternate history of his Bookman trilogy, with its Britain ruled by an alien reptile Royal family, and where every character that you know out of pulp fiction is real. I afterwards immensely enjoyed his patchwork Central Station novel with its beanstalk to near space and the community that grows up around it.
Now we have this novel, which was nominated for a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel, a Locus Award for Best SF novel, a Sidewise Award for Alternate History and a Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel, which is a very impressive showing indeed. What we have here is an alternate history story that is also a chilling police thriller. If you enjoyed the Counterpoint series that recently aired, with its multiple worlds and murderous espionage story, you’ll find this novel fascinating.
Unholy Land starts off with pulp writer Lior Tirosh returning to his homeland in Eastern Africa where Palestina, a Jewish state established in the early 20th century, is fast constructing a massive border wall to keep out African refugees, as this Jewish state is as xenophobic as ours is. (This state is based on an historical idea that never happened.) Unrest and outright terrorism in the capital of Ararat is tearing things apart way too fast. While searching for his missing niece, Tirosh is pursued by members of that state’s security service who are trying to cover up both century-old conspiracies and the existence of multiple realities, for it seems that that more than one Palestina exists, and the barriers between the worlds are beginning to break, with possibly deadly consequences.
The narrative in Unholy Land is both unsettling and fast-paced, which the narrator Andrew Fallaize handles quite well. I had no idea where Tidhar was going with the story and will freely admit that I was quite lost several times, which might well have been been intentional, but was delighted with how he brought everything to a satisfactory conclusion. No one here is quite what they seem they are and none should be taken at their word, especially Lior Tirosh.
Oh, and Tidhar loves the concept of multiple realities, so pay close attention to which timelines pop up here as they do make sense as regards the story line.
(Tachyon Press, 2020)