Indie author Alexis Radcliff’s “A Vanishing Glow” is a punchy, fast-moving Steam…
Well, I’d say “steampunk,” but it ain’t. I’ve been wondering what this sub-genre should be called. Like my novel “BREAK!” it is a fantasy, but set in a dawning industrial age after man has bent magic to his will and harnessed it to power machines. (What, nothing could possibly go wrong!) I would name the genre “magitek,” but that’s just ripping Final Fantasy off.
Bah! No matter! Call it what you want – this book was great! The world is in upheaval, society reeling from the first couple of decades of an industrial revolution (that’s not an easy change to go through) with a fractious young federated government at the helm. In this environment – realistically complete but never overbearing in its description – the book follows two main protagonists in parallel storylines fraught with ambition, treachery, and heavy emotion. These are heroes who would not view themselves as such, weighed down as they are by heartbreak and self-doubt stemming from past events which are gradually and naturally revealed through the course of the story, taking you deeper into the weight of their old wounds even as the action and rising chaos drive onward to a thundering climax.
This is not a gentle book, but there is a gentleness and empathy in the author’s treatment of her characters, so that even the villains are allowed their humanity. As fantastical as the setting and events are, the characters are so realistically wrought in their drive and motivations that the story easily comes to life in the mind. This has the side effect of turning some of the triumph at the end into tragedy – it’s harder to feel good about the bad guys failing when you realize that they aren’t evil, just broken. The story becomes less of an escape and more of a reflection. But I wouldn’t have Radcliff change it for anything. This world is real to me, these people matter, and I’m eager to read what comes next.
Added bonus! Lady power!
This book is the first to fill a personal niche for me – female speculative authors whom I dig. I realized a few months ago that none of my favorite authors were women. That bothered me. I mean, I like women. I’ve read some great non-geek fiction by women, but spec fic is my thing, and it worried me that my personal bookshelf was a boys club. So I set forth to read female speculative fiction authors.
It was a little disheartening.
I have little loyalty for books. I don’t push through just because I’ve started reading something. I can be 300 pages in and toss a book if it bores me. For male writers, this tends to happen when they get up on a soap-box about something stupid, or get way too technical, leaving the characters flat. One example springs to mind, when a protagonist went on for 4 pages of long, unbroken paragraphs extolling the virtues of the longbow over the crossbow. Yeah, I shut that one real quick. The operational theory behind your plasma rifle may be neat, but keep it to one sentence, please.
I hope I don’t come off sexist or stereotypical here. Please just bear with me. For the first few female authors I targeted, I ran into a different sort of plodding. I guess you’d call it the inner monologue or the emotional backdrop. Thick, bulgy paragraphs crammed full of every nuance behind a character’s relationships and emotional state in exacting detail. An homage to Jane Eyre with dragons or spaceships is still an homage to Jane Eyre, and I can’t push myself to read through page after page of nothing actually happening. Just like with the longbow example, it made me growl, “Get on with the story!” and toss the book.
I guess I like action. Maybe it means I’m immature and lack emotional depth. But I think it’s just the mark of a better storyteller if you can reveal who someone is through what they say and do, rather than by directly telling us for page… after page.
“A Vanishing Glow” is not that kind of story at all. It is a well-drawn character-driven adventure in an amazing environment or political intrigue, human ingenuity and mystical natural force, and I loved it. Thank you, Alexis Radcliff. You were the first (hopefully among many) lady author I found on this quest who writes the kind of stories I like. Turns out I’m just picky. I have a few more Sisters of the Geeky Quill on my hit list – I’ll be sure to share if any of them move me.