by David Drake
Cover Artist: Todd Lockwood
Review by Mel Jacob
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781481482769
Date: 07 November 2017 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
While some have termed The Spark a space opera, it is something else. Humans live in a mixed world called the Here bordered by the Not-Here and the Wastes. The Not-Here contains bits of strange ancient technology that only Makers can use or even understand. The Wastes is the province of beasts such as dragons, giant birds, and Shades that devour all life. Drake uses this setting and relates a quasi-Arthurian tale of an innocent like Sir Galahad minus the religious fervor.
Pal, the would-be hero, was raised by foster parents and has no idea who his birth parents were. He is a Maker and good at finding bits of things from the Not-Here and able to reshape them into useful things. Some of them are too incomplete for him to use. His one ambition is to become a Champion in the service of Jon, the leader of the Commonwealth and dedicated to unifying all humans and pushing back the Not-Here. To become a Champion, Pal creates a weapon and a shield.
He travels to Dun Add and meets Guntram, a Maker and foster father to Jon. Pal fails in combat and returns home defeated. However, Pal leads a charmed life and Guntram follows curious to see Pal's finds from Not-Here.
Once armed with a new weapon and shield, Pal returns to Dun Add and becomes a Champion. He then returns to the Marches, the border between Here and Not-Here, and proceeds to right wrongs and help to extend the borders. His hardest challenges lie ahead.
The ending seems somewhat inconsistent with Pal's character. A common meme is an orphan with unknown parentage who undertakes a heroic task. Overall, Drake treats him mostly as an innocent "Ah shucks" country boy such as Sergeant York and even Harry Potter, only much smarter. However, some of the time, Pal is brilliant, idealistic, and always honorable.
Drake indicates he has crafted an Arthurian type of tale where Guntram is Merlin and Jon is Arthur. He conjures up plenty of monsters and nasties for Pal to conquer and then a supreme test of his humanity and honor.
It remains unclear if the Ancients are earthly and Pal's world the future or an alternate reality. The novel provides a satisfying read as Pal meets each test with bravery and survives. His concern for those he defeats is a refreshing change.
A popular author Drake has five extensive series and five single novels with The Spark being the sixth.