Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Published: Solaris, 2014
Series: Book 1 of the Fractured Europe Sequence
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Campbell, Clarke
“After a variety of crises, Europe has collapsed into many small states. The increasing number of new borders and citizenships has created a chaotic mess where crime flourishes. Rudi is a chef in Krakow, but one day he finds himself quietly recruited into a seemingly silly (but lucrative) kind of spy game. In his new role as a Coureur, Rudi transports goods, information, and sometimes people across many borders.
As Rudi gets in deeper, he realizes that the work of the Coureurs can sometimes be deadly serious. He eventually becomes entangled in a conspiracy that someone is willing to kill to cover up. Will he be able to discover the secret before it costs his life?” ~Allie
This is the first book I’ve read by Dave Hutchinson, and I chose it because of the many award nominations. Also, sorry for the long silence. It has been a hard summer to find time to write.
Europe in Autumn is a kind of spy/organized crime novel, which eventually has some supernatural elements. It starts out in Rudi’s mundane life before his recruitment as a coureur, and I enjoyed seeing his life as a chef. I found his impatience and mild embarrassment with his first ‘spy’ work amusing, and I got a kick out of his unenthusiastic personality as he grew in competence as a coureur. On the other hand, his adventures felt very episodic. The book jumped around from situation to situation, and I didn’t ever feel like I had a strong sense of the story as a coherent whole. This is the first novel in a series, so it’s possible that subplots which are dropped here are picked up in the coming novels.
Rudi’s fractured Europe was carefully imagined, but it was also incredibly bleak. I don’t know how likely this scenario seemed to be back in 2014, but now it’s just close enough to reality to make me feel stressed out. As a coureur (and even as a chef), Rudi spends a lot of time with organized crime syndicates, so the world we see is really dirty, cynical and full of violence. I’m definitely not opposed to darker books, but I think this one just hit me in the wrong place and at the wrong time. There were some ideas that I thought were pretty interesting, though, such as the long rail-line that declared itself as an independent country.
As the book moved toward its conclusion, it seemed to focus progressively less on Rudi. Instead, the story began to be told through the perspectives of a string of minor characters and fictional documents. At this point, I was mostly interested in Rudi’s personal story, so the shift away from him left me feeling puzzled. The supernatural elements that eventually come into play are a neat idea, but I had mostly run out of interest in the story by the time they were revealed. Overall, I think this book was a mismatch for me, but I can see the appeal in the story for others.
My Rating: 2/5
This slightly supernatural spy novel features an amusingly reluctant chef-turned-smuggler who has adventures throughout a fractured Europe. I enjoyed the personality of the main character, but was less engaged by the episodic nature of the story and the bleak near-future world. I also began to feel more indifferent as the novel shifted away from the protagonist in the latter part of the book, focusing instead of fictional documents and minor characters. This was not a book for me, in the end, but I can see how it could have caught others’ imaginations.