Is that cover not hideous? But it is actually a good representation of the book, which is ugly and confusing, but also imaginative and interesting. It reminded me a bit of another very original fantasy I read recently, The Year of Our War, in that in both you are thrown in medias res
and must figure out the world building, sides of the conflict, backgrounds and relationships of the characters, etc as you go along. Obviously there are many other novels that use this technique, and I often prefer it, but in both these books it was fairly difficult to get a handle on the situation. In The Year of Our War I felt like Swainston was pretty well in control of how and at what speed this information was revealed and that it became all clear to the reader (me) when she meant it to. I'm not sure if Zielinski just wanted to keep the reader reeling, but I never felt that I entirely understood the situation. The central plot conflict, yes, but lots of the peripherals never came together for me, and at the end I was still wondering why a number of things had happened at all.
Part of the difficulty was that it took me a long time to get the cast of characters straight, despite their colorful attributes. There are many of them and each referred to by at least two names and sometimes other sobriquets. Swainston does this, too (I had a hard time keeping straight which titles went with which proper names), and like Zielinski's her characters are generally not very likeable, but at least she had one main character for the reader to follow, and she did a good job developing that character and getting into his head. Zielinkski probably should have done the same -- with Rider as the main character, I guess -- instead of spreading his time roughly (very roughly) equally between so many that I ended up not caring about or understanding any of their motivations. I found Chloe particularly opaque: how did she become a Geoduck worshiper? Why would she agree to be the "cell whore" (which they hardly seemed to need)? And unless I missed something major the whole episode near the middle where they are all sent on different solo tasks never actually gets explained nor do the things they are sent to do have much bearing on the outcome of the battle with the Vulture Cult.
Also, in case you, dear reader, are sensitive to such things, the sex in this book is really gross. It is almost more bizarro than horror. There is sex with zombies, or some zombi-like things with toothy mouths in their stomachs, and maybe tentacles? And sex with jaguars. And sex with one's elderly, wrinkly professor (ew). There might be normal sex between Chloe and whatsiface the naval officer, but that's not described. Stephan Zielinski is not interested in boring old normal sex, I guess! No wonder his characters take aphrodisiacs. But the sex is not a large portion of the book, so don't let it put you off reading unless you are squeamish. If you are squeamish this book is not for you, for other reasons.
I think a lot of these are debut author flaws -- having trouble keeping straight everything that is going on and remembering what you've actually explained to the reader and what's just in your head. Despite my confusion I did enjoy the read much of the time. It is original and imaginative, especially in terms of the varieties of magic systems. The writing is solid and the dialogue often snappy. I'd definitely pick up another book by this author.