I found this an unusual book. On the one hand it's typical space opera wherein the main character gets a band together and goes on a quest. On the other hand, the cosmology of this book is so abstract that the plot is completely ungrounded, making it completely unaffecting to me, emotionally.
Vivian Liao is a billionaire bitch entrepreneur who gets pulled from Earth by the Empress. The universe she lands in is based on 'the cloud' which is very ill-defined. But that cloud seems to allow for communication, exercise of huge energies, and holds the souls of all people (except Vivian who is said to have no soul). People that are particularly adept at interacting with the cloud can teleport themselves (Xiara does it explicitly); there is constant talk of travelling 'in the cloud'.
My problem with that cosmology is twofold. First, the phrase 'the cloud' is what we call the internet, so it constantly reads as though everything is a simulation online. Second, the author never explains the cloud, even a little. So, after reading the entire book, I still have no idea how the cloud works, what are its limitations, etc. That means that, as a plot device, its just hand-wavery. Need something to happen? Say it's got something to do with the cloud, and leave it at that. It's lazy writing, boring writing, and in the end, emotionally flat writing.
Before I bought it, I saw a dichotomy of reviews. One chunk of readers thought it was brilliant and wildly inventive, while the other chunk felt it was abstract goobletygook. My reading was somewhere in the middle. I respected the author's audacity to throw us into that world without explanation and hit the ground running. I was patient, hoping that my faith would be repaid, but it never was.
Vivian's frenemy, Zanj, was a particularly vexing character to me in that she had what amounted to limitless powers. She could fight any number of opponents and recover from nearly any damage. She could travel through the cloud, and she bore a weapon that had even vaster, less defined powers than she. There was never a question of Zanj losing. She was briefly defeated once, but by then it was clear that the author would find a way to reverse that. He did.
Another way of summing up my complaint about the cosmology was that 'the cloud' was a poor magic system. It had no limits per se, no rules, no cost for usage. It existed as a plot device that solved every problem. By halfway through the book, the cloud had made everything so ungrounded that I lost all sense of tension. I finished the book, but mostly to see where the plot would finally end.
Stylistically, I didn't enjoy Max's psychoanalysis of his characters. He would drop in these long bits of navel-gazing that I started to skim by the latter part of the book. Mostly, it was a character musing on their relationships, usually non-binary ones. Maybe the non-binary nature of a lot of it was supposed to punch up the entertainment value, but it just bored the crap out of me. Vivian, for instance, had no philosophy per se, no parental trauma, no great yearning in her life, except for relentless ambition. So every few pages it was how her relentless ambition impacted this or that relationship. I just didn't care after a while.
Together, the cosmology and the characterization made the book very 'meta' for me--ungrounded, abstract, however you care to say it.
I respected this book for its creativity, but found it nonetheless unsatisfying.