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The Light Ages Paperback – 5 Apr 2004
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"So powerfully recalls Dicken's [Great Expectations] that this affinity animates the entire work."
About the Author
Ian R. MacLeod is the author of THE GREAT WHEEL, and his short fiction has appeared in INTERZONE, ASIMOV'S and FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and has been shortlisted for almost every major science fiction and fantasy award including the Hugo and the Nebula. He is twice winner of the World Fantasy Award for his alternate history novella, THE SUMMER ISLES, and his short story, THE CHOP GIRL.
Top customer reviews
We are told the life and times of Robert Borrows, an Englishman in a Victorian age which is influenced by a dark magic. It takes him from childhood as he first rebels against the society he's born into and then as an adult against the basic society. We're given the full story of his revolution and face essential questions which involve the issue of just what the revolutionary is truly revolting against and of the inevitable consequences of such revolt.
The story-telling is highly evocative and set against a darkly surrealistic backdrop. Idealism is portrayed along with the traps that go with this idealism. Obsession is looked at and dissected.
This novel isn't for Jordan and Tolkien fans, at least not for those unwilling to look deeply enough to see what is real at the bottom of the fantasy.
A key point to understanding this book is the protagonist's discovery that his lifetime adversary is merely human and that this discovery is somehow a disappointment. Then comes the question as to just who is the true adversary.
This is not a book for fast reading, but more of one to allow oneself to become absorbed in.
The primary backdrop of The Light Ages is a future London wherein a Dickensian sort of social order has prevailed for a full three centuries, fueled by the discovery of aether, a magical substance that is mined from the earth. Industrialization failed to progress, to a large degree, because aether and the spells guarded zealously by the guilds could magically make inferior items, including those making up the industrial infrastructure of society, perfectly workable. On their own, such structures as the low-quality train tracks and flimsily-constructed buildings could never stand, but aether kept everything in working order. Thus, industry stagnated, and society, through the course of three century-long Ages, also stagnated into a tightly compartmentalized world of guilds. Social mobility was all but unheard of; the son of a toolmaker would grow up to be a toolmaker because there was no other option. A few individuals, though, seemed to possess magic inside themselves, and these creatures were rooted out and ostracized as trolls (i.e., changelings). Robert Barrows was born into this world, growing up in the town of Bracebridge, the most important aether mining town in England. One special day during his childhood, his mother took him to a home outside of town, where he met an extraordinary young girl named Annalise, and soon thereafter his mother began to change horribly. With her death, he chose to flee his world and seek his destiny in London. It is here that he becomes a social revolutionary, working to usher in the light of a brand new Age, one in which society is not stratified by wealth, status, or birth. Oddly enough, he also sometimes walks in the world of the guildmasters, the very persons he is trying to overthrow, and it is here where he meets Annalise again. The rest of the novel is a meandering tale of discovery and loss, mixing in a remarkable cast of characters, as Robert strives to discover the secret of his home town of Bracebridge, a secret that unites him and Annalise in the most fundamental, albeit mysterious, of manners.
One problem I have with the book is the fact that some of the most important events and transitions take place between sections. We see Robert hop a train to escape to London, and the next thing we know he is working for a socialist newspaper five years later. Since MacLeod's main emphasis in this novel, at least as it appeared to me, was a careful and close critique of man and society, Robert's transformation would seem to have offered the author a perfect means of pursuing his loftier goals for the story. There were moments when MacLeod succeeded in demonstrating the common humanity of the wealthy guildmen and unguilded marts such as Robert, yet no individual's real self seemed to emerge from these pages; thus, the motivations of different characters at different times were difficult to understand, and the whole point of the novel is, in one sense, seemingly challenged by the ending. The Light Ages is not a cheerful, inspirational story, but I don't think it tries to be; personally, I'm not entirely sure what the novel was intended to be, and that is the source of my own dissatisfaction of sorts with what could have potentially been a truly insightful, socioeconomically challenging novel.
There is something for everyone here. There is a nuts and bolts science fiction premise, there are two love stories, secret lives, conspiracies, witches and mutants. Fantasy fans will find enough more than enough romance and magic to satisfy. If you don't like fantasy, the cod-scientific logic of Aether power puts this on the borders of steam-punk. If you don't normally like period drama, this is the prose equivalent of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, something that puts the rule to proof.