Reviewed by Steve Dean
Gallow, it says here, the capital of Cerrano, is ready to tear itself apart. The cause of this tension is the perceived divide between those who have magic, and those who don’t and are treated as second-class citizens. Returning to the city for the first time in many years is Ridley Ripley, (more on that later) a Shadow or powerful mage, who immediately comes under suspicion by both sides.
Cerrano is a kind of steampunk setting, the non-magic users inventing machines to make up for their lack of magical power. The magic users don’t like this, of course, and thus is one cause of the rising tension.
There are far too many characters here, in what is basically a novella. I’m not the world’s fastest reader, but a single afternoon was all I needed to read it. Some of the characters could easily have been removed, and the world-building and the hinted-at backstory also needed cutting back. This would then have left room for more three-dimensional characters, some decent descriptions of locations, and more story. Conversely, one of the most promising characters, Friday, isn’t really developed at all. Ridley is a powerful mage, but Friday seems to be her protector, how and why is never explained.
The dialogue also needs attention, I found it a bit bland and not really right for the setting. It lacked local flavour, and could have been lifted straight from a soap opera.
The plot itself is a bit scant, and the pacing flat-lined throughout. What we have here is a short story with a trilogy’s worth of world-building and backstory. And that name, Ridley Ripley, is so in your face as to be farcical. Ok, pay homage to your heroes, but not so obviously.
And I’ve got to mention the book cover. Yes, I know, don’t judge a blah blah, but people should at least make an effort. An extreme close-up of a woman wearing faux steampunk goggles really doesn’t help the situation.
The most annoying thing of all about this book is, despite its failures, it misses in each category by only a small margin. The author only needs to improve the plot, the world-building, the characters, and the dialogue (simple, right?) and change the main character’s name, and what we’d have wouldn’t just be a good book, but a very good one. (I’m talking Hobb, Lackey, and Le Guin here.) The potential is there, but the author has yet to learn her craft. While I can’t recommend this particular book, I’d have no hesitation in reading whatever the author produces next.