I have been a huge fan of Lindsay Ellis’ youtube channel for a while now, so I was quite excited to see she has been able to publish her fiction novel. To be completely honest, I did not know a lot about the plot or the inspiration for the novel. I am quite confident that a part of my opinion about ‘Axiom’s End’ comes from the simple fact that a lot of references Ellis made in the novel simply flew over my head as they were quite culturally bound to the USA. I am also not the biggest fan of first contact stories, but I did go into this book with an open mind, ready to enjoy it. However, despite my big desire to like Ellis’ debut novel, I simply found too many elements I did not enjoy and cannot really recommend it.
The novel follows Cora Sabino, a daughter of a famous whistle blower who leaked the information of a government cover up of first contact. She is then contacted by a real alien Ampersand, who uses her to be the interpreter in communication with other humans. As their relationship continues to develop, Cora learns more about Ampersand’s culture and starts understanding why aliens came to Earth in the first place. Without spoiling it too much, I will just say that Cora grows increasingly afraid that Earth will suffer a terrible fate. The plot of the novel is just a bit underwhelming and not entirely original. I understand that much has been written about first contact and alien stories and that it is impossible to write something original, but I felt like nothing new was being said or added to the overall corpus of alien narratives. It does seem like Ellis was more preoccupied with the questions of ethics and morality of government cover ups and the right of the public to know the truth and I think that this is where the story is the strongest.
The biggest issue I had when reading this novel was actually the writing style. To be completely honest, I always really admired the way Ellis presented her arguments and told hilarious, serious and sarcastic stories in her videos. While I understand text intended to simply be written down and read is different than the one intended to be spoken, I expected more of Ellis’ voice in her debut novel. But, writing in ‘Axiom’s End’ honestly just felt, dare I say, amateurish. There were so many awkward descriptions of things and people around our main character. The dialogue was not any better and although I can somewhat let Ampersand’s dialogue slide as he is an alien communicating through a more advanced google translate machine, everybody in this novel seem to be just as awkward and unnatural when they are speaking. For whatever reason this may be, I simply did not hear Ellis at all but rather something I would have expected from an advanced high schooler.
Characters were undeveloped to the point I had to return through the dialogue a few times to understand who said what. Cora had potential as she was the oldest child in family broken apart by her father’s quest for the truth, justified or not. Instead, more time is spent on her playing the guitar, which just came out of nowhere and added nothing to the plot or her character unless I was supposed to read something into the choice of the songs she decided to play. I was also not sure how to feel about the fact her gaining weight and not fitting into clothes was brought up a few times. I just felt like a lot of her potential was wasted and I hope that she gets a better character arc in the sequels that I saw will be published relatively soon. For now, although she is supposed to be a bit older, she simply reads as a typical YA female protagonist. All the other characters,except for a few aliens, just felt like background noise to me, and I am honestly struggling to recall anything about them. Her family, who is one of the reasons the whole cover up is blown up, ends up not having any major role in anything. Luciana, her aunt, who is supposed to be a bad ass agent served more as an uber for Cora or a way for her to get into places. Their relationship is also undeveloped and until the end I am not sure what to think about her.
Speaking of aliens, I though Ampersand was quite a fascinating character and I really did enjoy reading his parts, especially when he would explain different concepts on his planet. I also did like his relationship with Cora more when they were just platonic, but it was obvious that this was going to be an interspecies relationship. I did not really care about their romantic attachment as it simply did not make any sense to me and I did not really understand why and how this happened. I wish more time in the novel was spent on learning about Ampersand as himself before jumping into this relationship. While I feel like I have learned enough about his past to justify his motivation and understand him, this is precisely the reason I did not understand his relationship with Cora at all. Additionally, the way Ampersand’s apperance is described is just so animal like from the start that whenever he and Cora got physically close, it made me literally cringe. I just cannot get over how illogical and unnecessary that relationship is.
At the end, too many elements of ‘Axiom’s End’ simply did not work for me. As I said before, a lot of it might stem from the fact that I am not very familiar with the cultural references Ellis made in the novel, but a lot of my criticism also has to do with the more technical sides to writing that have nothing to do with that. I was quite encouraged by all the positive comments about ‘Axiom’s End’, but unfortunately, I cannot join the praise this time. When the other two parts come out, I will probably end up reading them just to see if some of the plot holes and undeveloped elements get better. For now, I rated this 2/5.
Did you read ‘Axiom’s End’? What are your thoughts? Are you also a fan of Ellis’ youtube channel? If had forgotten something about this book, let me know in the comments down below.