There are certain types of books with devoted readers–readers who purchase, collect, devour, debate them, become a bit fanatic about them. The way certain kids did with Harry Potter. They way some readers did with Lord of the Rings back before is was cool, back when people wrote “Frodo Lives” on the walls of subway restrooms. Other, more cynical people, make fun of them on late night comedy shows and in animated series. Think comic book guy from The Simpsons.
I’ve always been a little jealous of these readers myself. They look like they’re having fun to me. And their books always have such exciting covers. Look at the two posted for this review: an attractive young men, armed with cool weapons, staring intensely at the ruins of civilization. You must be this tall to ride this ride.
Now and then, probably four or five times a year, typically in summer, I pick up a book like Elegy Beach out of simple jealousy. I want to read something just for the thrill of it. But the trouble with books like this is that so many of them turn out to be full of talking. Time and time again the cover promises adventure and excitement, but the book delivers pages and pages of dialogue, debating strategy or problem solving or which side of the upcoming apocalyptic battle to best align with. Enough political intrigue. Get on with the adventure. Stop talking about the end of the world and start doing something about it! That 90% of this dialogue could be trimmed away without hurting the plot does not help matters. Really, does anyone ever list the 60 pages spent discussing who should make up the Fellowship of Ring as their favorite part of The Fellowship of the Ring? Move along, nothing worth saying here.
Steven R. Boyett delivers just the sort of escapist reading I’m looking for. Adventure. Magic. Fun. Dialogue only when necessary.
Elegy Beach is the story of Fred and Yan, two young men who leave their families to make their way in the world. Theirs is a ‘post change’ world. Mr. Boyett’s novels Ariel and Elegy Beach take place after the change, an inexplicable event that rewrote the underlying laws of nature rendering almost all machines inoperable and returning magic and magical creatures to earth. Fred and Yan are second generation–both born after the change occurred. They have grown up listening to stories of life before the change without having any point of reference to understand them. Fred and Yan like the post change world they live in and have no desire to see things go back to the way they were before.
Until a few chapters into the book.
The two friends both study to become spell casters. Both are very good at it, better than their fathers and better than their teachers who were all born before the change. Yan becomes obsessed with becoming the greatest spell caster ever. When the two have a falling out over this, Yan leaves to strike out on his own and to become powerful enough to cast a spell that will undo the change. To gain this power he must get a unicorn’s horn.
Enter Ariel. Fred’s father is Pete, the main character of Ariel, written in 1978, who found a ‘new-born’ unicorn in the days following the change. Because Pete was a sexually inexperience teenager at the time, he was able to raise the newborn unicorn, Ariel, and to travel with her for several years. Eventually, after events separated the two, Pete traveled west to Del Mar, a seaside town in what was once California, where he raised his son Fred. Pete and Fred learn from Ariel that in his quest for power Yan has killed her companion and taken his horn. If they do not stop him, Yan will reverse the change ending magic and the lives of all magical creatures forever.
Okay, this is silly stuff. I admit it. Elegy Beach is also largely a retread of Ariel. Wise-cracking, foul-mouthed unicorn and her innocent companions set out to defeat a powerful wizard against over-whelming odds in both books. But it sure was fun. Again there is plenty of adventure, just enough dialogue to keep the story moving along, and inventive touches along the way, as well as above average characterization and quality writing.
I had a very good time.
But I wonder why Mr. Boyett is so coy about his main character’s sexuality. It’s clear to me, though it may be something other readers miss, that Fred is in love with Yan. In a private discussion with Ariel, Fred asks if she thinks he’ll be able to touch her. Is he a virgin? He doesn’t say what sort of sexual activity he has engaged in, but I can’t be the only reader to suspect that he’s really asking if gay sex counts. Technically, if he’s only ever had sex with Yan, is he still a virgin as far as the unicorn is concerned? The subject doesn’t come up again until the very end of the book. At no point do the fathers of either boy ask about it or appear to suspect anything other than friendship between Yan and Fred. It all felt very 1950’s to me. James Dean and Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause comes to mind. Couldn’t this all be out in the open nowadays?
Mr. Boyett waited almost 30 years to write this sequel to Ariel. He’s said that this second post change story is the final one. Both a blessing and a curse if you ask me. Ending the stories here means they won’t go on long enough to become stale, nor will readers be encouraged to look long enough to begin finding fault with them. Knowing when to close the show in spite of the audience’s calls for an encore is always a good thing. On the other hand, there won’t be anymore show. I’d like more. That’s the trouble with always leaving them wanting more. There isn’t any more.
I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2011. Since then, I have continued to try fantasy and science fiction every could of months, about five times a year. This year I found Leviathan Wakes, the first in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey which fit the bill perfectly. I’ve already got the second book on my TBR shelf waiting for winter break. However, there have been more than a few that failed to fit the bill as well. There’s still far too much talking in fantasy/science fiction if you ask me.