Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
When we first meet the young man, Mycul Zas, he is aboard a ship, setting off to see the world before he settles down to take over the farm inherited from his father, who disappeared years ago. His plans are wrecked on the island where he is kidnapped by geneticists, who are keen to torture him and turn him into a monster. He has been betrayed by his uncle, just as his father was. Mykul escapes and discovers that his father has been turned into a mordont, a genetically modified being, half human and half animal.
With the help of the mordonts and other friends, Mykul embarks on a quest, to restore humanity to the mordonts and to take revenge on his uncle. But he is soon distracted by wider concerns, when he hears about the prophecies of the Ornithon, a mysterious tower full of forgotten technology. He becomes caught up in power struggles between rival tyrants and is forced to fight for his survival and that of his friends and the lover he finds in the middle of his adventures.
The novel is set on earth, in a post- apocalypse far future. Society is based on relatively primitive technology, as people struggle to deal with the consequences of irresponsible experiments of the past, including genetically modified creatures designed to replace the animals which have died out. But their civilisation is not static and experiments are not done only by criminals. One of Mykul’s friends, Sartash, is a scientist, curious about everything and full of useful knowledge about geology, airships and guns, among other things. He questions the nature of the Ornithon and helps Mykul challenge the regime of the tyrants. Mykul himself is more of a political thinker, who holds by the motto ‘All are created equal’. He has an empathy with the mordants and other creatures, as well as a mystic bond with the Graken, the sea serpents who carry ships faster than they could sail but feed on human flesh.
This is a world full of treachery and uncertainty, in which no decisions are straightforward. By the end, some puzzles have been resolved but not all. The setting is portrayed with telling details. At the beginning, we read that Mykul is enthralled by the science of landscape and we see the places he visits, not just through scientific information but through lively description, from the island coagulated from oceanic mud, to the midnight garden of the necromancer’s daughter and the glass obelisk of the Ornithon. As well as the Graken, Mykul has memorable encounters with the miniature creatures who have been genetically modified to replace bees, with the giant Gorangoth and the story teller Nag-Nag Naroon. Women play powerful roles in the story, on both sides, although I found their personalites less memorable than those of the male characters.
The reader is given a picture of a complex and fascinating world, as well as being shown the potential consequences of the destruction that could arise from our own way of life. The narrative is lively and cheerful. Through all their troubles, the characters do not spend time feeling sorry for themselves but remain full of an engaging energy and determination. The battle scenes towards the end provide an exciting climax but the resolution is far from simple.