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Review: Lifelode by Jo Walton


I have wanted to read this book since at least 2015. It seemed like exactly that sort of small-scale book I might be into. Unfortunately, it was completely impossible to get – available either from a small press that did not ship to my country, or used for insane prices – until very recently when an ebook finally became available.

Worth the wait? Absolutely.

Lifelode is the story of what happens after two strangers come to the tiny village of Applekirk and of course, throw their usually stagnant life into all sorts of upheaval. Though things get a little more exciting near the end, the story remains extremely small-scale all the way through, remains focused on one (large) family, and never moves out of the village.

It’s all set in a very strange world where magic exists on a sliding scale from East to West – a lot of it on one end and none on the other, with Applekirk being somewhere in the middle. Combined with a few other unusual touches like polyamory being the norm (makes love triangles interesting!) and priests going around naked and what might look like normal medieval fantasy on the surface…isn’t.

In addition, time really doesn’t matter much. Especially the beginning moves between the present and different events in the past constantly, and even though it does eventually level out and become mostly linear, there remain some quirks. The use of past tense is also rare to nonexistent – for example “when [character] was a child” would always be “when [character] is a child” even though it’s obviously referring to the past. This makes for an odd sense of timelessness, quite fitting for the themes of the story and the abilities of some characters who can see through past and future.

But really, all the weirdness and the content warning aside, it’s a very chill, slice of life, family- and character-focused book.

(This does not affect my rating or anything, but I have to note that the ebook is extremely poorly formatted. Worse than most ARCs, with no proper chapter breaks, _ instead of italics, and random line breaks in the last chapter. Hopefully this will get fixed eventually.)

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: fellow slice of life fans, those who like weird books, anyone looking for a book with normalised poly relationships (plus, a lot of the characters are bi, some are gay, and there is an aroace side character too!)
Not recommended to: parents (see: content warning), those easily confused by weird timelines

Content warning: death of a child

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