Thursday, 26 April 2018

Review: Spell of Catastrophe

Spell of Catastrophe Spell of Catastrophe by Mayer Alan Brenner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It wasn't until I looked this up on Goodreads, partway through reading it, that I realized it had originally come out in the 1980s and had been reissued as an ebook. That made sense of the fact that there were weird glitches in some of the word spacing, while the overall copy editing (apart from the fairly common confusion of "discrete" with "discreet") was good, better than the cover would have led me to expect.

The story itself is well done, too. It's reminiscent of Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, and somewhat of Jack Vance, mainly because of the precise diction of some of the characters, though fortunately they are not the alienated, amoral bastards that Vance writes. Instead, they are "vaguely disreputable" (the sobriquet of one of them), but mostly striving to do the right thing, even if they're not always completely sure what that is. One of them spends a couple of paragraphs musing about it. Lovable rogues, in other words, or at least laudable rogues. Chaotic good, if you want to talk D&D alignments.

There are three main characters, one of them (for narrative reasons which eventually become clear) a first-person narrator, and the other two observed in omniscient third person. The first is a noir-style detective, and the other two are a doctor (among other things) and a wizard whose life goal is to understand magic enough to undermine the gods. They start out separate and eventually come together; this is a difficult approach to pull off, because it risks the reader being jerked out of one story just as they're getting invested and dumped into another story that they don't yet care about. The author, for my money, manages it well.

There are moments of wry humour, moments of high drama, and a good deal (perhaps in places a touch too much) of the magical equivalent of technobabble. Lots of things go boom and crash; there's quite a body count, though mostly in the background, and the characters register it as regrettable rather than just dismissing it as the way life is. It's capably done, and I enjoyed it.

I'd read the rest of the series, if they were priced a bit more attractively.

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