Friday, 17 April 2015
Rough Magick by Kenny Soward
Steampunk kind of passed me by. I knew it was out there, knew it was "in fashion" so to speak, but there was something about it that didn't entirely appeal, there was always something else to read (or write) first and I passed over several times.
As it turn out, this was a big mistake! I don't know if Kenny Soward's work is representative of most steampunk, but if it is then I'm going to be spending more time reading it.
As I said, I don't know much about steampunk so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of a setting. Was this going to be an alternate history? An adventure in a quasi-victorian world? As it turned out, it was neither. Soward blends technology with fantasy, using gnomes as the mixing bowl.
The worldbuilding is rich and extremely well done, as a fantasy world complete with dragons, magic, and elves, blends seamlessly with steam-power, tinkers and electrics. I've not read about gnomes since Shannara and Dragonlance and neither treated the race particularly well. This though, this is something vastly different to those experiences.
Little touches are rife throughout the text, with modern day inventions re-envisaged through a gnomish lens. Musitron disks instead of vinyl or CD's, sound boxes instead of speakers, even the naming two of the gods in the gnomish pantheon, "Tick" and "Tock". They're little things, but enough to bring a smile to the lips.
The story builds slowly, woven into the fabric of the worldbuilding and it's done very well. One sign of really good fantasy is when the reader forgets that they're reading about a non-human character, and Soward manages just that. His characters are as flawed as the next man on the street. Pride, guilt, deep bitter jealousy and resentment... they're all present and I think it's these uglier character flaws which serve to make this story so effective. This is no cliched fantasy tale about a brave knight in pristine armour off to fight an evil dragon. It's the story of a brother and sister, Nikselpik and Niksabella, simply trying to get ahead in a world which seems unwilling to let them.
The relationship between these siblings is severely damaged with both blaming the other and remembering events differently. Even though this is a very minor aspect of the book, I have to say it was one of the parts I enjoyed the most and which most drew me into the characters.
The story is complex with enough enemy factions to make you wonder what the connections are and how many hidden ones will be revealed in later books. Rough Magick is part one of a trilogy and, even if you weren't aware to start with, this becomes obvious about two thirds of the way through the book, when it's clear there simply aren't enough pages left to completely end the story. Though it ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, enough of the tale is resolved to not annoy those who hate endings like that. Not without its flaws this is an amazing debut novel and a series which I will be following.