Book Review: Retribution Falls

So, a daemonologist, a smuggler, and an Archduke’s heir walk into an airship—oh dear, you haven’t heard this one before, have you?

Retribution Falls is, like much of its steampunky brethren, strange above all else. The good sort of strange, mind you, but strange none the less. No lizard people, but airships abound (because how else would we know it was Steampunk? The goggles would make no sense!), magic and daemons are in the air, and money is the name of the game. Money is, after all, the driving focus of this novel, given that it’s a tale of a crew of smugglers.

Enter Darien Frey, captain of the Ketty Jay—a ship he loves above all else. Even his crew. Or his passengers. Even…well, alright, money would probably give it a run for it. He’s a man that would look a thief in the eye and tell him to go screw himself rather than turn over his precious ship—even if it meant getting some of the (expendable) souls around him iced. His crew? Much the same in temperament. But what do you expect? They’re a crew of bandits, smugglers, and lowlifes of the lowest rate.

No, I mean it, the lowest rate. They lack success, luck, and the money that goes with it. They barely have the money to keep flying but—you guessed it—with the dawning of the book, is the dawning of an opportunity: the job to end all jobs. Like any “job”, though, a hero (alright, anti-hero) isn’t about to get off without a hitch—and in this case, the hitch involves explosions and false charges of murder. Whoops. Welcome to fame (sans fortune) and a top spot on the number one most wanted list! Toss in a fugitive daemonologist for flavor, a desperate need to prove innocence, not to mention a seasoning of dark humor, and what you’ve got here is a real winner.

Does it have the depth you know I love? Alright, well, not in its entirety, but it strikes a decent enough balance for a book as outright fun as this one. Character development does abound, characters learn from past mistakes, and as quick as you can swallow this bit of literature, it’s rare that you actually feel left wanting over its course. No info-dumps will weigh you down, so it’s a speedy read.

Also: there is daemonism. Daemonism magic, to be exact, which is a sort of outright fantasy mixed with pseudoscience, and used just enough to tease one’s interest without giving enough away to truly pick apart. What’s more: it’s magic with a downside! Not all powerful—and that’s just the sort of magic I like.

Basically, Retribution Falls is an amusing package that fires on almost every cylinder: fast-paced action (including airship action, which is always glorious), rampant piracy, and characters with humor—and, well, character. In the words of a terrible song? I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. This is how you steampunk.

Inside Idasia: The Magic of Lecura

Magic, as they say, is often the difference between a wild sci-fi adventure, and a fantasy one.

The world of Lecura, in true fantasy form, has its share of the magical, though it’s somewhat different from what you might call “traditional” fare. Of course that’s something of a misnomer, as nearly all the great fantasies have their own unique marks on the magical realm, their own guiding principles and laws that truly lend that awe-striking element to the show (as seen on io9’s fantastic chart).

So what I mean to say is that for The Hollow March and its sequels, magic is not a “normal” affair. For the people and the world of these books, it is not commonplace or widespread knowledge. It is rare, it is scorned, it is terribly self-destructive, and it is bound by one of the most concrete principles of our own world’s precious science.

It is, however, an art learned (in most instances)–not an inherited trait. So let’s learn, shall we?

To begin, the magic of Lecura is based upon the concept of transfer, much as we often credit to alchemy today. Powerful as the stuff may be, matter can neither be created nor destroyed therein—merely manipulated, merely affected.

Take Usuri’s interaction with the overly-affectionate soldier in the opening chapter of The Hollow March. Therein, she puts her lips to the man and twists dark magic upon his very innards.

How?

Well first of all, she had a connection to the man. Skin met skin. Saliva met saliva. From there, it was merely a matter of manipulating that bond. He was the catalyst, and she took the man’s saliva—the very water of him—and simply edited its state, freezing it solid and killing him utterly.

Warning: not party friendly.

See, that whole water into wine thing? Much safer. Also tastier. (Image: Fire campfire by Titus Tscharntke)

In the same vein, I could hurl dirt to the wind and set its bits ablaze. I could take the same dirt in hand, rub its weight upon my skin, and let it color me dark as the mud beneath my feet. In theory, I could even pull a Jesus, and step upon the waves.

So long as I have a connection, I can work change upon it.

But could I kill outright? Could I touch a man and order him to death? The disturbing fact to consider is that yes, yes I could—but to kill outright is somewhat different from mere manipulation. It is a force of will—the forcing of things into their antithetical position: to render being unto death. All the ingredients are there, of course, but it is not so simple a manipulation as others. You cannot take without giving, and as this is rather distinctly a taking, it requires an equal trade to see it done.

Yes, I could kill a man, true, but I would have to sacrifice myself in the process. A life for a death.

See what I meant about alchemy?

That’s why the round-abouts are so important. Take the dirt I set afire. I could cast it on a man and he would die, writhing in flame, without any sacrifice of my own required. Why, you ask? Because it was the fire that killed him. Not me. I did not will him unto death. I set the dirt aflame and the flames burned him down.

Big or small, though, the change requires some fuel for the flame. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well. As I posited before—to kill a man outright, with touch and breath, would take the same sacrifice of the self. Yet to spark a flame on dirt would also take sacrifice—though at a much lesser extent. A spark for a spark as it were—a few moments’ pain, or a week’s. It all depends upon the size of the action worked.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

Terrifying, and more than a little masochistic, to be sure.

emo/scene

Okay, okay, so sorcerers can probably get a little emo at times. ("emo/scene", Image by Wikipedia)

What makes the art truly terrifying, however, is that one can work it from afar. So long as I possess a piece of a person, or a place, I can work my will upon it, though we could be miles apart.

Perhaps the best way to lend the concept visual in the mind’s eyes would be to compare it to the overly simple western (mis-)interpretation of Voodoo, dolls and all. Say I held a doll. Say I wished to hurt a man with the doll, a hundred miles from my door. Well, the doll in and of itself bears no connection to the man, even if it is a rather fetching likeness. It lacks a ground. Now suppose I had a clutch of the man’s hair. Then, I have a ground, but no focus—unless I wish to ruffle the man’s hair.

In joining the doll and the hair, however, focus meets ground, and the doll becomes a focus for the man. Say I lit the doll aflame then, and focused my will upon that distant soul. He would light up like a Christmas tree.

Yet this process is, of course, also more taxing. As we lack the whole, physical connection, greater bits of the self are often sacrificed to lend weight to the bond, lest it prove too tenuous. Though all magic drains the body, the most potent of these works drains the soul as well.

Once upon a time, the magical of the world would track precisely how many years of their own lives they had shaved off their own lives using themselves as catalyst and ingredient.

This is also why, above all else, caution is key for any sorcerer.

And it’s a trickier lesson to learn than you might think—since most the teachers have long since gone to their good earth.

The Phoenix

A poem for the wonderful Monday Poetry Potluck, as hosted by Jingle Poetry, and those lovely poets Amanda and Kavita! This week’s theme: Magic & Miracles, Wonder & Wizardry. The poem you see below, dubbed “The Phoenix,” was written in my Freshman year of High School, but it certainly seemed to fit this week’s theme – so I hope you enjoy.

Mournful cry

From flickering flame,

The smoke is rising nigh.

Such wondrous radiance –

Its time had come to pass.

The flames wind up its fading form,

As noble creatures hum

A lonely lullaby.

Tick tock-

The moments tick on by-

Ashes lay where fire burned,

The beast is now long gone.

Yet gaze into the ashes-

A surprise is soon at hand-

A beak pokes from desolate dust,

The flames burn bright again!

A bird rises from the ashes of its father-

The cycle begins again.

* If you’re looking for an additional bit of reading, I also encourage you to check out my nod to the Thanksgiving season on One Stop Poetry: A Poetic Monday! I wrote a poem for it called “Of Turkeys and Bounty,” a  work I will be re-posting here a little later in the week, for Thanksgiving holiday. A bit of a history lesson on the holiday is also provided, for our more international audience, who may or may not know of what Thanksgiving is. Enjoy!

Another set of Colorado Haiku

What you may notice about these Haiku is that they do not, in fact, have to do with the mountains themselves, as many of the my previous works have. Though these came from my time in Colorado, they were inspired by other sights around me–the city of Denver, for one, the sight of the towering mountain mines for another.

Also, while there are more still to come, I want to say that once again, there may be another brief hiatus on posting as I head north. I will only be gone for a few days, and when I return, posting will resume as normal.

In the meantime, enjoy:

Split the rock below,

Drills bore into deepest hold—

Dead men tell no tales.

Rocky mile high club

Five hundred thousand souls strong

No wonder they smile.

Beyond the pale light

Sleeps the gilded dragon king—

Fear the reigning flame.