Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Steampunk, Epic Fantasy, and Post-Apocalyptic Reviews

Bride and Mark join me in posing new reviews over the past few days at SFFWorld.

I reviewed the newest book by Scott Westerfeld – an alternate history/steampunk/science-fiction romp Leviathan.

Of course this technology was not quite as advanced in 1914 of our world as it is in the world of Leviathan. Westerfled’s descriptions were enough to give hints and really put me in the seat with Alek as he piloted his walking tank across the European landscape. Furthermore, Alek is genuine in that while he is somewhat oblivious to world events and headstrong, Westerfeld doesn’t make him a complete idiot. The balancing act can be tough to manage with the typical orphaned heir and Westerfeld pulled it off exceedingly well – I liked Alek, I felt for his plight, and I found myself rooting for him throughout the story.

So, there are a lot of dichotomies in this novel and world – mechanized technology v. biological technology; boy protagonist v. girl protagonist; Allied Powers v. the Central Powers. The technology conflict is presented in a very engaging manner, with the Clankers showing revulsion at the manipulated life forms, while the Darwinists think the Clankers some kinds of heretics for their devotion to mechanized technology.

Mark reviewed Amanda Downum’s debut novel and the first of her Chronicles of the Necromancer series -The Drowning City.

This may sound a little familiar but usually a reader hopes that a tale will develop enough of its own identity in order to make it memorable. Here the key differences of the novel are the use of oriental-style ghosts in a South American rainforest-type setting and its magic system. One of these worked for me, the other less so. Here, ghosts of your ancestors can determine your lifestyle, by both being a force for change and a means of possession if things get too tricky. Less successful is the world’s means of magic – basically this involves storing ghosts in what basically amounts to magic crystals is a little too Mario-land for my liking, though the author makes a reasonable job with what could have been a millstone.

The tale is fairly fast moving from one set piece to another, and this tends to cover up the fact that there is actually little depth here. I rather expected more espionage and political shenanigans than I actually got, and of the actual world around Symir there is, in the end, little to be actually seen here. By the denouement, things are a little overwrought, with what initially seemed to be a key plot-stone turning out to be nothing more than a MacGuffin around which the other events unfurl. The ending is rather apocalyptic and possibly a little overdone, with some plotlines being conveniently held over to the next book.

Last, but not least, Bride took a look at X-Isle by Steve Augarde:
The plot is pretty simple; end of the world style destruction, struggling to survive, taking down the bad guys. But there are a few twists that you just don’t see coming, one to do with a character and another during the final climax on the Eck’s boat. These blew me out of the water so to speak; I didn’t see them coming but when you think back over the story it all fits into place seamlessly. None of the plot was random; it was all connected all determined from the start just hidden inside the text, waiting till the end of the book when you suddenly realise that the clues were there; you just didn’t notice.

No comments: