Zack Handlen gave the book an A in the Onion’s AV Club:
Great fantastical fiction has a way of suggesting metaphorical connections without insisting on them. It’s possible to read The Lord Of The Rings as an allegory for World War II, although JRR Tolkien rejected this interpretation; 1984’s immediate social relevance has faded over time, yet the novel’s genius remains undated and powerful. It’s a matter of collecting potent, resonant ideas, then combining them with well-drawn characters and a smartly constructed plot. Felix Gilman’s new novel, The Half-Made World, does this with an exhilarating level of self-assurance. Using the brutality of Westerns alongside steampunk gadgetry, he constructs a story that could be about how civilization forces itself onto a new frontier, about how industry and anarchy are both necessary forces which inevitably become corrupted when allowed too much power, or possibly just about monsters and demons and guns that never need to be reloaded. . . .The story is breathlessly paced, coming within a hairsbreadth of being rushed, but still breathing sufficient life into its people and settings to be satisfying. Creedmoor in particular is a wonderfully complex bastard, and his struggles against the giddying embrace of carnage help give the book’s stream of destruction a gratifyingly moral component. There’s much to be said about Gilman’s thematic aims, and about the abrupt, curious ending, but the important point to take away is that reading this novel will make anyone who cares about dark adventure giddy.
Faren Miller in Locus:
In the Half-Made World, Felix Gilman turns away from the strange city and Mountain of his first two books, fantasy/SF hybrids Thunderer and Gears of the City, to a variant of America in the late 1800s that goes beyond the possibilities of alternate history yet manages to come closer to the truth of that past than any exercise in what-ifs. Despite some extraordinary changes to geography, history and the nature of the original inhabitants, this setting manages to reflect the conflicts, myths and sheer craziness of our own 19th century. . . Gilman has no use for nostalgia’s sentimental visions of lost freedom or a gentle pastoral life out west. . . This enormously creative, complex tale uses every trope – and transforms it – in the service of a greater vision that never really forgets its roots.”
(I wish I could link to Locus reviews. Oh well).
An interesting essay/review by Mike Perschon on Tor.com, from which I am excerpting a bit about me and not the thoughtful remarks about Emily Dickinson, because it’s my website dammit:
When I began my study of steampunk by reading Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, I wondered if its theme of the loss of frontier, of unexplored and untamed spaces, was also a theme evoked by the steampunk aesthetic. It’s clearly a major theme in The Half-Made World, which Gilman explores with a page-turning narrative, engagingly complex characters, and deftly descriptive prose. Thankfully, it’s the first in a series, resolving many conflicts while leaving the requisite loose threads to entice anticipation for subsequent installments. While it’s not for those who like their steampunk in an upbeat utopia, The Half-Made World is custom-made for those looking for a dark dystopia filled with weird west, gritty steampunk, and literary intertexts.
On the other hand Cosma Shalizi says it isn’t steampunk at all. Fight!
A splendidly-written high-fantasy western. (It is by no stretch of the imagination “steampunk”.) Gilman takes great themes of what one might call the Matter of America — the encroachment of regimented industrial civilization, the hard-eye anarchic men (and women) of violence, the dream of not just starting the world afresh but of offering the last best hope of earth — and transforms the first two into warring rival pantheons of demons, the third into a noble lost cause. (I think Gilman knows exactly how explosive the last theme is, and which is why he manages to handle it without setting it off.) Beneath and behind it all lies the continuing presence of the dispossessed original inhabitants of the continent. A story of great excitement and moment unfolds in this very convincing world, tying together an appealing, if believably flawed, heroine and two finely-rendered anti-heroes, told in prose that is vivid and hypnotic by turns. The story is complete in itself, but leaves open a return to the world, which I really hope will happen soon. The most natural point of comparison is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, especially The Gunslinger, which I love; this is more ambitious in its themes, sounder in its construction, and more satisfying in its execution. The Half-Made World is the finest rendition I’ve ever seen of one of our core national myths; go read it.