(2014) Kristen Britain, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, 775pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09969-2
Kristen Britain’s 'Green Rider' series has received excellent reviews for its innovative use of fantasy and meticulously built world. Mirror Sight returns us to the adventures of Karigan G'ladheon, this time picking up from where, bereft of her companions and steed, she has been transported into the future of Sacoridia and Sacor City.
Those unfamiliar with the series will find the book a little confusing at first, as the book begins with Karigan running through unfamiliar streets amidst strangers, but it settles after a few chapters and enough of the prior story is explained without dwelling too much. The young adult appeal becomes plain after this as well, although this is strangely contradicted in some later scenes.
The future premise allows Britain to explore something of a steampunk context. She sets magic and technology in opposition, the latter leaching away the former in the future world, although the relationship is revealed to be more complex as the story develops. We have a carnival of attractions and variations of immortality manufactured by technology empowered by magic with much of the artifice unexplained, which is all for the better as it leaves many of the ideas open for reader speculation as they are described.
The chief problem with the book lies with the pace. At seven hundred plus pages it is probably two hundred or more pages too long and much of this dead weight lies in the first half. Whilst transporting the tale to a new context does require the writer to establish that, but here far too much time is spent on slowing everything down. We are introduced to the sedate and genteel world of Professor Bryce Lowell Josston, an academic and amateur revolutionary, trying to preserve the romantic ideal of Sacoridia’s past. Whilst he has and does intervene to oppose the slavery excess of the new regime, generally Josston’s role is to calm things, implying proactivity, but actually temporising. It takes Karigan more than a third of the book to see through him properly and assume her mantle as an agent for change and whilst this does allegorise something of our modern apathy toward political engagement, the predominance of safe young adult prose cuts against any deeper message that might be Britain’s intention. We do get some depictions of class struggle, but much of this is looking things from the perspective of an outsider – which Karigan is. We do learn of the way in which individuals have suffered at the hands of the Empire and these stories are narrative highlights. We also have some clear adult themes, but these are islands amidst a patient narrative crafted to appeal to teenagers. A deeper explanation of the politics and personal tragedy, rather than the general setting would benefit the book greatly.
The supporting cast of Mirror Sight is somewhat inconsistent when analysed as a whole. Professor Josston’s role is overplayed and leads to the book’s excessive length, but he comes across as a well sketched individual with layers and flaws. His student Cade is something of Thomas Hardy character, evolving from Alec to Angel as the story progresses. The fading of the ambiguous menace and threat established in our first encounter with him is something of a shame as he regresses to playing the part of a chief supporting character. Ahrys the spoiled heir to the Sacoridian throne is little more than a stereotypical spoilt child, but Britain plays her jealousy to excess, making her more dangerous than she first appears. There are layers to the enemy as well. Some have fumbled into their positions as adversaries others are conniving.
When Karigan finally does break free of the idyllic and soporific box she is placed in, we move towards achieving her personal goal and the goal of her allies – her return to the past and their intended revolt in the future. The fact that the former is likely to render the latter irrelevant is a matter considered carefully by some of the cast as they choose which risks to take along the way.
Despite the removal of Josston as an obstacle, the story still follows the adage of ‘hurry up and wait’ for a time. A slow recovery from an overdose, some interlude scenes that introduce an inverse Back to the Future plot device and reminders of each individual’s scheming and/or desperate plight, all crank up the tension but slow down the delivery. Very gradually the circumstances converge and build to the final confrontation.
When they come, the concluding action sequences are resolved with a deft hand. Each achievement moves Karigan towards her goal, but urgency remains for the most part remote or undetermined. Yes, we know Cade must get from X to Y and free Z, but how quickly this must happen remains a removed pressure. Similarly, the story of the past does not have a much of an arc by comparison. Little is altered when Karigan returns, other than to render the strange future she found irrelevant, meaning the book is almost a step out of any ongoing plot. The only changed individuals that remain are those who made the trip, Karigan and Lhean, which is not much to show for more than seven hundred pages. Michael Moorcock pulls the same trick more successfully with Oswald Bastable and Michael Kane, but here the frame is already established for the reader at the start as the books are recorded biographies. Mirror Sight is not so clearly defined and Karigan’s final return to her old life does leave the reader feeling as if we’ve taken the long path back to the same place we started from.
Mirror Sight is a well written addition to Britain’s 'Green Rider' series, but ultimately a book you could skip out if you chose. Fans will like it, new readers should probably start elsewhere.
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