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Science fiction and fantasy round-up: March 12, 2019

Mat Coward reviews the latest from Elizabeth Bear, Mark Stay, Adrienne Young and Justin Call

WITH  her crew of one, plus the AI that runs the ship, Haimey captains a space salvage tug in the first book of Elizabeth Bear’s new series Ancestral Night (Gollancz, £16.99). Their latest prize is some alien technology which could revolutionise space travel but which may prove too hot to handle.

Those in search of non-stop action will have to look elsewhere. Haimey is an unhurried narrator, always finding time for a joke or a speculative digression and the wordy prose style allows Bear to produce world-building and characterisation of an unusual depth.

The result is that rare treat — a “big ideas” space opera that is playful as well as thoughtful, which takes itself seriously but not solemnly.

The magic in The End of Magic by Mark Stay (Unbound, £10) is a natural force, understood to be somehow controlled by lunar movements, though the details are either unknown or lost. It allows a privileged caste of mages to keep the peace, heal people and generally make themselves useful to the Establishment.

But when an astronomical event suddenly switches the magic off like a power cut, the status quo totters. Mundane, practical sorcery is replaced by the terrible idealism of religion. War lords rise against kings and disempowered mages run for their lives from avenging mobs and witch-hunting priests.

I loved this entertaining, droll and original new voice in British fantasy. It’s not the first of a trilogy —  it’s complete and Stay deserves an award for that achievement alone.

There’s no magic in Adrienne Young’s debut Sky in the Deep (Titan, £8.99), just superstition. It has kept two neighbouring clans warring on behalf of their incompatible gods for generations.

When young warrior Eelyn meets her brother on the battlefield, she's shocked for two reasons — he was thought to have fallen in battle years ago and he's fighting for the other side.

"Side" is very much the point of this extraordinarily fine novel, as Eelyn slowly and painfully starts to question whether two peoples who seem so similar should really be at war at all. That question becomes urgent with the arrival of a powerful common enemy.

Young's writing is complex without being verbose and her spare, sometimes stark, prose reveals a landscape and its people which strike the reader as fresh and real.

Magic certainly exists in Master of Sorrows by Justin Call (Gollancz, £14.99) but it's not the good kind. In this society, people with special powers are stoned to death, as are those with physical disabilities — a sure sign of being claimed by an evil god.

Young orphan Annev has more than one potentially fatal secret to keep from his classmates and masters at the Academy, where he is being tested for a career locating and stealing magical artefacts, bringing them back to the academy where they can be safely locked away.

Another debut, this first in a series is full of action and with enough twists to the standard sword-and-sorcery formula to keep experienced readers intrigued.


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