Liz Bourke Reviews Prison of Sleep by Tim Pratt

Prison of Sleep, Tim Pratt (Angry Robot 978-0-85766-942-1, $14.99, 400pp, tp) April 2022. Cover by Kieryn Tyler.

Prison of Sleep is the concluding volume of Tim Pratt’s multiverse duology. At this remove, I can’t remember much about the first volume, Doors of Sleep (2021), except for four things: the first-person narrator, Zax, whirled unwillingly from world to world when he slept, pursued by a nemesis; the fact that he’s a kind person who collects a band of interesting companions around him; the break­neck pacing; and that I enjoyed it. Fortunately, Pratt appears to value accessibility in his se­quels almost as much as I currently need it, and Prison of Sleep quickly and smoothly catches its reader up on what one needs to follow along.

This time Zax is joined as a narrator by Ana, the woman he once met, briefly (very briefly) loved, and accidentally carried her awake with him while he slept his way to a new world, thus driving her insane and causing her to flee from him. At the end of The Doors of Sleep, Ana, now sane and possessed of new and indepen­dently universe-hopping allies, catches up with Zax and his friends, and reveals that there’s more things in heaven and earth (as it were) than Zax had imagined. It turns out that there’s a cult of worldhoppers going around infecting other people to jump worlds against their will.

Prison of Sleep opens with Zax separated from his companions, and Ana separated from hers. Some time has passed since the end of The Doors of Sleep, and now instead of being pursued by a genocidal megalomaniac bent on creating a multiverse-spanning empire, Zax and Ana are separately pursuing – and being pursued by in turn – adherents of the Cult of the Worm. It turns out that hopping universes is bad for the entire fabric of existence, leading to tears opening between worlds and potentially the dissolution of the worlds at large. Zax also wants to find his friends again, and Ana wants to find Zax and her other companions.

Zax finds a new friend first, Zaveta of the Broken Wheel, a warrior from what seems like a postapocalyptic, even dying world. Together they find a cultist. Then the being that the cult­ists worship finds (for a certain value of finds) them. There’s a dreadful sort of god lurking in the gaps between the worlds, imprisoned by their existence. It wants to be free. This is bad news for existence as a whole.

Prison of Sleep takes an interesting ap­proach to its two narrators. Both Zax and Ana are recounting their stories retrospectively, via the conceit of a journal or diary. Zax and Ana’s narratives open at approximately the same point in time, but Ana loops back to her first encounter with Zax and moves steadily forward from there, so that the reader learns about the allies (the ‘‘Sleepers’’) who rescued her from madness and helped her learn about the multi­verse, and who helped her follow Zax across his trail of worlds (so that they can recruit him to their struggle against the Cult of the Worm). Ana sees the aftermath of events we saw through Zax’s eyes in The Doors of Sleep, and stumbles into dangers that Zax and his companions barely escaped. Meanwhile, Zax’s narrative is moving steadily forwards, heading towards the home world of the Cult of the Worm.

Pratt hides information in one hand and reveals it with the other in a skilful dance that keeps the tension building to a high pitch, while never seeming too artificially contrived. The worlds of the multiverse range from weird to strange to horrifying in snapshot splen­dour, while the characters are interesting and appealing. Prison of Sleep is a fine sequel and conclusion to The Doors of Sleep, and together they make a very entertaining duology. This is a different style of book to Pratt’s Axiom tril­ogy (which, I confess, I adored) but the same sensibility: fast, fun, and easy to enjoy.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

This review and more like it in the May 2022 issue of Locus.

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