by Steven R. Boyett
Cover Artist: Steve Stone
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441017959
Date: 03 November 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In a world where magic has replaced technology and the laws of nature are more like suggestions, Fred and Yan have big dreams. One studies magic with a shopkeeper, while the other pursues a profound understanding of the world.
Unbeknownst to either, they are on a journey that will take them further than they could have imagined.Steven Boyett returns to the fantasy world of Ariel, his post-apocalyptic novel wherein magic has returned. The heroes of that novel are far from gone--indeed, characters from that book are very prominent here--but the story Boyett tells here is more about discovery, hubris and growing up.
Fred works for the old but learned Paypay, conjuring illusory unicorns and mending broken objects in exchange for pre-Change items. His best friend is Yan, who is an enthusiastic amateur at magic...but whose ideas represent some startling possibilities for this benighted Earth. When Fred's father and Paypay learn Fred has been teaching--and working with--Yan on some dangerous experiments, he is kicked out, losing his home and job in one night.
So they set up in a railroad car that they move with their magic, finding new employment and continuing their experiments. They make an amazing discovery, one that could make them very rich and very powerful, but the established casters don't like it--and one of them loses everything when he makes a fool of Yan's work. The outcome forces the two into a parting of the ways.
It isn't long, though, before their unfinished business must be finished. Yan has found a way to undo the Change, the very alteration of reality that makes magic possible. And it is up to Fred to protect the world's new status quo--or stand aside and watch the world be restored, with Yan as its new king.
Boyett has crafted a worthy sequel to his earlier novel, constructing a prequel that deepens the world of magic and techno-nostalgia in important, meaningful ways. Fred is a great viewpoint character, having come of age after the 30-years past Change, and his bemused perspective on the old days--and those who survived them--is refreshingly innocent. He knows about planes and submarines and the Internet but has never experienced them as anything other than stories; he only knows the world of castings and supernatural dangers and relative deprivation. He wants to make the world a better place but is too naive to understand what that really means.
Likewise, Yan is a great foil for Fred, being more ambitious and less scrupulous. He believes in revenge and in being right; his ego is as massive as his abilities. His hubris keeps him from seeing the ways in which life might be better, even if it is more challenging, even as his discoveries pave the way to transforming the world in a manner he could never have anticipated.
Their journey is one of maturation and self-discovery as much as it is about a friendship that goes dangerously awry. Fred and his later companions (including the unicorn Ariel herself) have the weight of the world on their decisions--and for some of them, that's a heavy weight indeed.
Fans of complex, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable post-apocalypse fiction (if that isn't an oxymoron) will be delighted by Boyett's work. His writing continues to define a subgenre that has grown in his absence but has never replaced him.