The second installment in the Tincture trilogy has solidified this series for me as one of the best pieces of science fiction/fantasy/western I have ever encountered. The first book was strong in its own right (I reviewed it over here), but the sequel is masterful, and mind-bending.
Originally released as a free serial audiobook with new chapters releasing every two weeks—and read by the author, who does a fantastic job with the narration—Tincture is a complex story of characters trying to rebuild their lives in the midst of a world that has moved on. The landscape is all dust and decay, and the small towns scattered across The Barren (this being the desert-like nothingness that covers most of the earth) resemble shantytowns of the old west.
There is no shortage of mysteries in the world of Tincture; there are folks who walk The Scar with metal tanks attached to their backs with tubes, yet the purpose and origin of the tanks is unknown. The tinctures themselves are archaic and unpredictable mixtures of ferment made with skilled hands through a process of strange alchemy, and the results are only sometimes successful. Lastly, everyone's memory is slowly losing its hold, and no one can seem to recall what happened that left the world in its current state.
What makes Book 2 so compelling in particular is the complicated narrative that leaves you only a few breadcrumbs at a time, eventually coming together to give a satisfying full picture by the end. The chapters are well-paced, and often conclude with a cliffhanger just infuriating enough to leave you wanting for the next episode. Like Book 1, this story skips around multiple timelines, but characters' names also change from one point in time to the next, and there are hypnotic black portals in the ground that transport people and objects from one unknown to another.
The world of Tincture has an overhanging sense of never being quite safe, and the characters who let their guard down are the ones who get injured, or killed. The Templars—hammer-wielding, violent religious fanatics—return from Book 1 and play a larger role in this story. A new presence on the dusty land is an ambiguous organization called The Warrant; ambiguous because it is never quite clear whether they are police, a form of government, a corporation, or all three. One thing is clear: crossing paths with Warrant men is to be avoided. Lastly, rumors drift of one called The Lazaran, a mysterious leader with a cultish following. It is said he can walk on water, and was once raised from the dead…
The most compelling element by far, and perhaps the best character Jordan has yet crafted, is 'Devil' Dock Avery. A towering, well-dressed man with a precise vocabulary, Devil is one of those characters with whom one is instantly fascinated. He lures you in with his proper speech and kind manners, then scares the hell out of you with his twisted humor and massive, cannon-like revolvers. Every scene in which Devil appears is a horrifying kind of delight.
While Book 2 is a 'complete' story in its own right, there are still elements of the Tincture universe that have not yet been fully explained (and perhaps some of the mysteries will be left that way intentionally). Either way, I eagerly await Book 3, and would implore any with a taste for the fantastic and strange to dip into Tincture as soon as possible.