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books review Sci-Fi & Fantasy with MAT COWARD

Reviews of new titles by Lindsay Ellis, JT Greathouse and Nicole Jarvis

TRUTH OF THE DIVINE by Lindsay Ellis (Titan, £17.99) continues the story of first contact started in last year’s Axiom’s End.

The revelation that a small group of extraterrestrial refugees is living on Earth is triggering a realignment of US politics, as xenophobic leaders cash in on the widespread nervousness created by continuing government secrecy.

A new division in that most divided of nations soon arises, over whether people from another planet are, in fact, people in a legal and philosophical sense. Cunning right-wingers argue for a compromise in which the aliens will be granted partial personhood. That this semi-citizen category might in the future be used against groups of native humans is not lost either on policy-makers or their opponents.

As with Ellis’s first volume, this is a dynamic adventure story which also prompts fascinating questions.

JT Greathouse, author of The Hand Of The Sun King (Gollancz, £16.99), has studied Chinese language and culture at a university in Beijing and there is a strong flavour of the old feudal East in the imaginary world in which he sets his debut novel, the first in a trilogy.

The book is presented as the memoir of a man who has two names. He is Wen Alder to the empire which has conquered his homeland, but he is Foolish Cur in the native tradition. His mixed family gives him a paternal line of imperial service, but a maternal one of patriotic resistance. The result is that his own path in life will never be easy.

As a youth, however, he’s not especially concerned with his heritage, nor is he plagued by divided loyalties — or, indeed, any loyalties. An early glimpse of indigenous magic leaves him obsessed with achieving mastery of it, no matter which side of the struggle that puts him on.

This is an elegantly written, dramatic story of the terrible cost of unexamined ambition and the impossibility of opting out from a conflict you’ve been born into.

The lamplighters of Prague in the 1860s are responsible not only for banishing the darkness from the city’s nocturnal streets, in The Lights Of Prague by Nicole Jarvis (Titan, £8.99). Their other, secret work is as monster-hunters.

Every night these humble men — essential workers, we might call them these days — risk their lives to keep their fellow citizens safe from creatures which most people consider merely legendary.

They can never hope to win a final battle in their war, not only because lamp lighting is, like the essential services of our own world, underfunded and largely ignored by the government, but also because it is a working-class calling.

They can battle the fiends of the streets, but they have neither the resources nor the authority to go after those who hide behind the shelter of wealth and respectability.

An unconventional and characterful vampire tale, Jarvis’s book never loses sight of the fact that fangs are one thing — but class is everything.

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