Since the book is named The Windup Girl, I assumed she'd be the main viewpoint character. Instead she was often lost among a large cast... I think there were five viewpoint characters, total. As it turns out, I was glad she wasn't in more scenes, since her life mainly consisted of finding her next source of ice and spending her evenings being humiliated and raped.
Exploring the world was one of my major sources of enjoyment in this book, because it's amazing. The political dynamics and future technologies and their impacts were very well thought-out. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of the world, rather than just the one city.
Unfortunately, the plot is unclear in the beginning, leading to a slow start. I can understand some of the sluggishness, as it takes a while to set up the world and so many viewpoint characters. But it seemed like even once things were established it took a while for things to happen. In fact, things don't actually start moving until a non-viewpoint character
(Carlyle) heats things up.
The writing itself makes it hard to care about any of the characters, even the windup girl, whose plight is so terrible. And the most interesting, complex, tortured character of all doesn't even come in as a viewpoint character until halfway through. But the writing was so clinical that I wasn't hugely impressed with her either.
There seemed to be several missed opportunities to create dramatic tension. Most of the writing seemed to strive toward worldbuilding, rather than storytelling. An example of missed dramatic tension was that Anderson brought the man who would debase Emiko the most to the brothel, and yet neither character remarks on this. Anderson doesn't feel guilty about it (in either way... debasing Emiko or getting the man killed). Emiko never mentions how it makes he feel that the man she has been relying on for protection is the man who brought about her worst wounding of all.
Another example is pretty much everything about Kanya. Had she been one of the main characters from the beginning and more the focus, this book would've had a much more satisfying conclusion. She is an internally tortured character, and her struggles over who to back and what war she's really fighting were interesting, but very underplayed. We also should have seen her surrender; instead, we only saw the aftermath. And the surprise that they left her as commander would have been even more surprising had we seen her troops' rough handling during the surrender, being treated like traitors and all.
Overall, I wanted to like this book, but couldn't. Even the ending, a momentous collapse of society
didn't seem that climactic.