Albatross – R.A. MacAvoy & Nancy Palmer



Two neurodivergent men, one a brilliant physicist, the other a computer whiz, navigate a Britain whose law enforcement approach has gone well past reasonable.


My experience with R.A. MacAvoy has been decidedly mixed. She’s clearly a master of prose, and I think her Belly of the Wolf trilogy is fantastic, but I’ve found many of her stories to be distant and, frankly, on the dull side. Unfortunately Albatross is very much in that latter vein. I know nothing about Nancy Palmer, so can’t judge her contribution, but it doesn’t seem to have helped.

Albatross starts well, promising a look at physics through interesting characters, with a side of politics. Unfortunately, the physics largely goes out the window, the characters never develop, and the politics becomes an annoying not-quite-motif. Most of the novel, in fact, could be described as never quite developing. [spoilers follow]

The characters are the most frustrating bit. Physicist Rob MacAulay has, we eventually infer, Asperger’s. But we don’t get this information until the midpoint of the book, leaving us to make assumptions about his strange affect and apparent inability to make choices. People everywhere love him, but we never see why. We’re told he’s a political symbol, but why and how?

Rob soon meets up with Thomas Heddiman, who it seems is also in some, unspecified, way, neurodivergent, but with the opposite effect – highly capable, very decisive. And then, for really no reason that we can see, they fall in love. We have to presume that Thomas, who’s gay, is attracted to Rob’s intelligence and vulnerability, and that Rob, who is maybe(?) pansexual (we know his wife died), is attracted to Thomas’ ability and decisiveness.

The whole situation is complicated by the fact that, due to circumstances, Thomas literally owns Rob, in every conceivable way. And Rob seems to like it. There’s potential for a lot of examination, analysis, and satire in this situation. It’s made clear that Thomas hates slavery, and has done this to save Rob from death (which all seems to work really easily, because of  [handwave] Thomas’ competence). But beyond that, the book does almost nothing to address its largest issues, beyond satirizing British politics (and global).

I picked this up not too many months ago, and was excited to read it following a re-read of the Belly of the Wolf books. Now, I rather wish I hadn’t, since it reminds me forcefully that, while MacAvoy is a fine stylist, I don’t actually like that many of her books. Following this one, I don’t plan to investigate more – specifically not the sequel to this book. Despite MacAvoy’s proven skill, I can’t recommend this.

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