bookrev: The Modern World (or Dangerous Offspring) by Steph Swainston

Intricate descriptions, and a fast paced plot that moves the story, fills inThe Modern World some gaps but leaves some large questions

After I read and reviewed Ms. Swainston’s first two books (The Year of Our War and No Present Like Time), I corresponded with her. In the interest of full disclosure, we traded signed copies of our books (that is how I got my hands on the UK Version!).

As I have said in reviews of the first two books, Steph creates a unique fantasy vision. The world called the Fourlands itself is not unique; but there are immortals in it, held together in the Circle by the emperor San who may be thousands of years old (the “may be” part is my only peeve on the book, but that comes later). The main character, Jant, is the immortal called Comet, the Messenger, and he works hard to control a very mortal-like drug addiction. There are parallel worlds, which Jant can visit during his drug trips, and he finds out in earlier books they are real. And there are starship troopers-like Insects, that have infested the northmost part of the Fourlands (and have come from one of the parallel worlds).

In this book, the armies of the Fourlands (and their architect) believe they can push the Insects back with a dam, push them back with water. No spoilers here, but this turns out to be a very bad thing. This bad thing happens while Jant is off to find his best immortal friend Lightning’s teenage daughter Cyan, who happens to be on a drug trip of her own and Jant ends up chasing her into one of the parallel worlds.

Steph SwainstonIn the end, the battle to end all battles against the Insects ensue, some immortals are killed (they can be killed, they just do not age) and more mystery is added.

My favorite part of Steph’s writing is her descriptions: Jant flying, the palaces, even battles. Take a look at Steph’s picture…where does this lovely young Brit ever get the background and experience to write a battle sequence like one where Jant has been sliced across the middle by one of the Insects:

I clutch one hand instinctively across my stomach but the gash is too long to hold together and my fingers sink under the edge of the flap of skin. It is warm and very slick. I feel a loop of gut spill out over my arm. I look down and see it adhering to the ground, picking up pieces of soil and grass blades. Unable to stop it, I watch it uncoil out of my midriff from under the mail shirt. The guts slither over each other; they are different shades of grey and firm to the touch.

Yummy, huh? Her descriptions make the scenes quite imaginable. At the end of the book, the scene is set at one of Lightening’s many manors (you get rich if you live long!)…when Steph describes it, I see the Palace of Versailles in my mind’s eye. And she must have done some skydiving or gliding, as Jant’s flying is laid out in most imaginative words (she lists quite a bit of research material on swordplay, archery, architecture on her website, but nothing on flying…maybe she flies secretly at night away from the muggles in jolly ole Bradford?)

My only gripe with the book is that I wanted to know more. Some secrets are revealed, but the big ones (where did the Emperor come from? how does he know about the parallel worlds and why does he ask Jant to keep it a secret? how does he form the Circle and make the Immortals immortal?)

The plot of the book starts off with what could be considered incidentals (who cares that one of the immortals has a teenage daughter that has run off? Let’s battle some insects or visit some psychedelic parallel worlds). But she pulls it all together in the end.

Congrats, Steph, great work.

Author’s Website

Buy it at BOOKS, Inc. 

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