‘The Quantum Thief’ – Book Review

January 9, 2013 3:46 pm

Hannu Rajaniemi

The Quantum Thief is the debut novel from Finnish author, Hannu Rajaniemi. A shining example of ‘hard science fiction’, The Quantum Thief is a crime caper, set in the far future of our solar system, which is now populated with a host of bizarre, post-human entities.

The hero, Jean Le Flambeur, is a master thief, who begins the story incarcerated in a virtual prison, forced to compete in constant mind games designed to reform his character, usually resulting in him being shot. He is rescued from this torment by the enigmatic Mieli, but his freedom comes at a price: he must return to his criminal ways and steal something for her, and her mysterious benefactor.

First off, I have to say that this is unquestionably the strangest book I have ever read. There are regular interludes between chapters (something I have never before encountered in a novel), in which seemingly random events occur, involving characters you have never before met, and virtually every page introduces a new word.

This is a dauntingly intelligent science fiction, crafted by a man whose knowledge is apparent in every paragraph. The fantastically imagined characters, locations and technology make this a brilliant work of science fiction, but there is much more to The Quantum Thief than this.

Film Noir

Although at first it takes some concentration to keep up with the constant influx of new names and bizarre concepts, it is worth the effort. Beneath the veneer of advanced technology and alien cities there is a thrilling story, reminiscent of a film noir. There is a charming thief, a brilliant detective and more than one beautiful woman – although, strictly speaking, none of them are actually human.

The story splits into two main arcs, one following the thief, the other the detective, but each arc is constantly ebbing and flowing, taking new directions and splintering off into a network of plots; there are crimes, romances and even a revolution. Each one of these mini-stories is well constructed, intelligent and, most importantly, entertaining.

As the novel progresses the myriad of stories converge into a truly epic finale. The protagonists are thrown together in the tumultuous environment of a city on the edge of collapse, fighting to discover the truth about their pasts, and to preserve their future. The subtlety and subterfuge that characterised the rest of the book are abandoned, replaced with the exciting, lightning-fast action of a thriller. It is an ending that won’t disappoint.


As for the interludes, they all fall into place around chapter 16, springing that feeling of ‘yes, of course’ – it makes you feel like a detective yourself, earning the satisfaction of finally solving a case. The final interlude will leave you hungry for the sequel, The Fractal Prince, which fortunately is available now.

To conclude, The Quantum Thief is not only a great work of science fiction, but a fantastic character story – a mark that hard sci-fi books can sometimes miss. Science fiction virgins may not find this the best introduction to the genre, as the lexicon is heavily scientific, but this is no barrier for perseverance and an open mind.

%d bloggers like this: