Georg Ratner has recently been appointed the new City Commissioner of the city-state of New Babylon in the midst of an election with the incumbent president, the liberal Maggie Delgado, running against conservative populist Ted Rust. His main focus is to try keep the mysterious, powerful hallucinogenic drug Synth off the streets. However, his former partner, recently appointed head of the city finance department and well-loved poet Jesse Valentino is murdered. Ratner's investigations leads him down a political, metaphysical, and artistic rabbit hole.
"All cities were tombs, after all, and New Babylon maybe even more so than others."
Doubinsky's The Invisible is a mix of noir mystery, fantasy, and science fiction. It takes place in an universe that was built in his other books, however, it stands on its own as well. Doubinsky works the world-building into the story very well, avoiding info dumps and keeping the story moving at a good pace. It also leaves just enough untold to leave one wanting to pick up more of his work to learn more about this world.
One of the major themes of the book is the impact of art. Valentino's murder is at first seen as a random one, despite Ratner's suspicions. His suspicions are confirmed when he learns that other poets in other city-states have also been murdered as well as the publisher of Valentino's newest collection of poetry. Ratner's investigations into the drug Synth also reveal it has rich subculture of artists and musicians, and even finds himself a fan of some it, despite the threat to the establishment that the drug has been labeled as.
I've seen this novel labeled as a "dystopia" in some places, however, I don't find that accurate at all. While New Babylon is filled with corporate and political corruptions, it seems no worse off than the real world. In some ways, it seems a preferable place to live than the United States in the year 2020. The story is very prescient with its election storyline and the mass protests that happen as it picks up steam. There's a sense of optimism to it that many would find refreshing in these times.
The novel is divided into short chapters, some only a paragraph long, and into sections labeled with a tarot card. The first chapter of each section is a tarot card "reading," at least that's what I believe it is. I'm unfamiliar with tarot readings, so I can't say I know what the significance of them is.
The Invisible is an engaging mystery in a fascinating setting. I had a lot of fun reading this and I look forward to reading more of Doubinsky's work. If nothing else, to learn more about the city-state universe.
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