WHAT A RIDE.
I almost didn't pick this book up. What a sad alternate universe that might have been.
So...in a nutshell. There's a guy who can steal time and spend time (and hence is basically immortal) and the conceptual ghost of World War One...who live in the world, where an ancient immortal from the past basically disrupted time/space/other dimensions? Does that make sense. No, of course it doesn't. Not until you read it anyway.
You're kind of plunged right into it, the world slowly revealed in little bits of plot - which is the best kind of way to discover a world. Not with an index and lots of heavy handed exposition. And the complexity just gets added on, layer by layer, until it's pretty much impossible to describe to you without it sounding like gibberish. And the universe you find yourself in is absurd but just so well articulated and crafted. So good. You can believe the unbelievable.
Saying all that, I don't think it completely works. There are parts where I was going "huh?" and not really getting a reference or missing why something was important. Or not really understanding what the problem was. I think it was partly to still be a bit mysterious but sometimes it didn't work. But is was also just super fun to read, so perhaps I missed some context earlier as I ravenously devoured the words.
Part of the problem half the time was that there were no line markers between switching scenes - so you'd be reading and the top of the next page would be a completely different set of characters. And you'd be really confused, which would take you out of the story. It happened quite often. Enough times to make it memorable enough to write here anyway. But that's a typography problem rather than a story fault.
There was also the normal problem with books where you have lots of stuff coming to a head, with magic and things that you can't understand - so things sort of get lost in translation. But most of the time you can be like "BIG BATTLE SCENE HERE, GOTCHA". The last bit was a little like that - I think I'd have to re-read the last 50 pages again (maybe more than once) to be able to fully grasp it. But I can forgive those bits, because it's not like other books don't have their problems - and this is a pretty minor quibble.
Characters though. Omg. Best characters. I loved the characters. I want to be friend with Istvan, even though he's the conceptual incarnation/ghost of the First World War. He was amazing and complex and just wonderful. SO WONDERFUL. And I can't even say why because it would pretty much spoiler the shit out of it and I think you should read this book.
You're probably supposed to like Edmund better but Istvan is really the best. But all the other characters are pretty great too. First of all, there's lots of important women: Lucy, Grace Wu and Magister Hahn. All have critical parts in the story and are all, in various ways, very powerful. It totally passes the test.
As well, they all have faults and complexities and worries and they just felt like real people (even though the world was ridiculously unreal). All the relationships were so complex as well, there were layers of love and hurt all the way down.
So all in all, so fucking good. I think it's tied with Archivist Wasp...or maybe just slightly below it. I still have so many feels for Archivist Wasp. But so totally great. If you read only three books this year, read at least those two. SO GOOD.