by Wen Spencer
Review by Cathy Green
Baen HCVR ISBN/ITEM#: 0743471652
Date: 1 November 2003 List Price 21.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The book features the adventures of an eighteen year old girl nicknamed Tinker, and takes place mainly in Pittsburgh, with the twist that Pittsburgh has been transported to another dimension called Elfhome, an other-dimension Earth inhabited by elves. Every thirty days or so Pittsburgh temporarily reverts back to its place on our Earth, due to a faulty orbiting hypergate built by the Chinese. Tinker owns a junkyard and is a skilled mechanic and inventor with a superior understanding of physics, a skill set that becomes increasingly handy and vital as the novel progresses. The book starts at "Shutdown" when Pittsburgh turns off its own power grid so it can reintegrate with the national power grid when it rephases back to Earth. The action gets going pretty quickly when an important elf noble named Windwolf is chased into Tinker's scrapyard by a pack of magically enhanced wargs (think hellhounds) and Tinker has to save his life, fight off the wargs and get him medical attention. Tinker's life becomes increasingly complicated and intertwined with Windwolf's as the novel progresses.
It turns out that the wargs were enhanced with a combination of magic and technology, resulting in magically enhanced solid matter holograms and were sent after Windwolf by another group of non-humans, the Oni, who are from Onihida (Oni are clearly the basis for a lot of Asian mythology involving animal spirits as well as Viking mythology). It also turns out the denizens of Elfhome and Onihida appear in our mythology because there used to be natural gates between the worlds. However they were too small and hard to find to be useful for large-scale travel. In addition to the elves and the Oni, Tinker has also managed to attract the attention of our Earth's National Security Agency and the Elven Interdimensional Agency (EIA), the agency set up to handle relations between humans and elves and to deal with immigration issues. Tinker came to their attention because her application to Carnegie-Mellon alerted the NSA to the fact that she knows just as much about building a gate as her father, the inventor of the process, did.
The Oni want the gate technology so that they can invade Elfhome and Earth because Onihida is a resource starved planet. As a result, everyone literally is chasing after Tinker, who is trying to maintain a semblance of a normal life and just wants to run her scrapyard and engage in normal 18-year-old activities such as dating. Of course, when the city you live in has been transported to a world ruled by elves where magic is just as real as physics, normal just isn't possible. Tinker's life gets increasingly tangled up with that of the elves with each choice she makes having increasingly larger, more serious consequences for both herself and those around her up to and including how to save herself, her loved ones, Elfhome and Earth from the Oni.
Tinker is a well developed character. Her motivations and thought processes are clearly depicted and give the reader insight into the character. The elves are more inscrutable, in part because they are viewed from Tinker's viewpoint. This opaqueness of character serves to emphasize the differences between elves and humans. When you're immortal you can afford to take a long view and a wait of 30 days or even 120 years is nothing. By contrast, humans in the book are viewed as mere children by the elves. Tinker, being mortal with a typical human life expectancy, naturally feels things more strongly and urgently than an elf ever would and thus holds a certain fascination for them.
Spencer does a nice job of letting us in little by little on how exactly elf society works without having to resort to obvious exposition dumps. We learn what's going on pretty much the same time Tinker does, although readers familiar with fantasy tropes will figure out many things before Tinker. For instance, I anticipated that accepting gifts from Windwolf would result in Tinker having unintentionally accepted a deeper obligation than just owing him a gift. However, Spencer does provide a logical explanation for Tinker's ignorance of elf customs despite living her whole life on Elfhome that might otherwise be attributed to bad writing. Spencer makes it clear that Tinker's education had some serious gaps, that the elves and humans really didn't mix very much, and that Tinker's adviser on things elvish had deliberately misled her about a number of things. Spencer has also given a lot of thought as to how Pittsburgh's human society and culture would evolve given the shifting between worlds and what the advantages and disadvantages of such a condition would be.
One way Tinker departs from Spencer's previous books is that there's a lot more sex, and it's more explicit. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just came as a surprise. I did, however, find the scene describing the forced mating between a warg and a kitsune to be distasteful and unpleasant. Of course, it was meant to be unpleasant and was done to the kitsune as a punishment and given that the alternative was to be de-boned alive, the kitsune considered it the best option among bad choices.
Other than the sex scenes, which I could have done without, I don't really have any complaints with the book. It was fast-paced, well-written and hard to put down because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I do not know whether the book is meant to be a stand alone novel or the first in the series. The ending makes either option equally viable. Tinker is an enjoyable, quick read and I would recommend it both to people who are already fans of Spencer's work and to those unfamiliar with the Ukiah Oregon books.