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Sunday, October 30, 2011

"The Book of Transformations" by Mark Charan Newton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Mark Charan Newton Website
Order The Book of Transformations HERE
Read FBC Review of Nights of Villjamur
Read FBC Review of City of Ruin
Read FBC Interview with Mark Newton

INTRODUCTION: The Book of Transformations is the third novel in the four volumes Legends of the Red Sun series, following Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin. So far the series had a tapestry like structure with new and old characters, action in multiple places and several plotlines that are clearly related but in ways that are still mysterious to some extent.

In the reviews linked above, I talked at length about the setting of the novel and the essential characteristics of the world created by the author - old, multiple disappeared civilizations, forgotten science as magic, incoming ice age, island based imperial setting so less centralization and homogeneity, several extant races including the main two: humans and the longer lived rumel, so I will assume the reader has at least a rough knowledge of what the books are about.

As with City of Ruin, I have received copies of The Book of Transformations at several stages - early final draft, "final pre publication copy" and finished copy - and I had the honor to exchange several emails with the author about the book, while being also mentioned in the acknowledgments to the novel, so the usual disclaimers apply.

While I read The Book of Transformations in the Fall of 2010 (early final draft) and then again in January or so (final pre-publication copy) and the summer of 2011 (final copy), the May-July hiatus from FBC due to my household move prevented my reviewing it for its publication in June. The Book of Transformations is also one of the few books where I sort of know the author - even if only by email - and I generally find it much harder to review such.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Nights of Villjamur introduced the world and especially Villjamur the city, the setting, several main characters and the two main plotlines, City of Ruin shifted the action to Villiren which is another important city of the Empire that stood directly into the path of the alien invaders from the first novel. Now in The Book of Transformations, we return to Villjamur and the local mostly political plotline with the new Emperor and his tenuous hold over the city and empire, the underground rebels and their rumored powerful cultist leader.

After an introductory chapter where an old acquaintance from the first novel, rumel Investigator Fulcrom appears and we realize he will be one of the main leads of the book, we are introduced to the new main character of the novel, Lan who is "different" and has suffered all her life for that. Because you see, Lan has the body of a young man, but inside she feels herself to be a woman in all that counts. So she lives a life of continuous concealment - outwardly and in all the things that define her self-image, a woman - but with the wrong physical parts. Not an easy life even in our contemporary and relatively tolerant society, while in the harsh post-technological world of Villjamur, ice and mostly primitive beliefs and tech, immeasurably harder.

However, Lan gets somewhat lucky and finds out about Ysla, an isolated "cultist" island, where there are people that can perform a gender change operation - at considerable risk to Lan of course - but she desperately accepts and later, finally more or less fully a woman, she goes to Villjamur to make a life in the big city. But the new emperor Urtica has a plan to maintain his slipping grip on power and Lan happens to fit them, whether she likes it or not...

While The Book of Transformations is mostly about Lan, Fulcrom and their adventures and discoveries in Villjamur, there are strong connections with the rest of the series and we also continue an earlier thread dealing with an immortality obsessed cultist and his gone badly wrong search for eternal life. By the end of the novel many things fall into place, the tapestry's outlines are becoming clearer, while the last series novel is a huge one as it promises the convergence of all that came before.

As discussed above, I consider that the main strength of the Legends of the Red Sun series is the superb worldbuilding and extreme inventiveness of the author. While he created some strong personalities in the earlier volumes, I think that with Lan and Fulcrom, Mr. Newton hit on a perfect combination and they are the best characters of the series at least for me.

The writing in the novel flows very well and the pages turn by themselves with vivid description of everything from the squalor of middle of nowhere provinces of the empire, to the lush Ysla and finally to the teeming, unsettled, grim but also luxurious Villjamur itself. There is action galore, the magic - or very advanced technology - intensifies even more and the tension raises continually.

Overall The Book of Transformations (A++) continues the trend of the Legends of the Red Sun novels to date - superb books that fit very well with my tastes in style, while bringing the extreme inventiveness that made speculative fiction the overwhelming choice for my reading.


John said...

Alright, you talked me into it.

I've been dancing around reading these books,always seemingly in the midst of some other series when each installment came out.

Finally got "Nights" on my Kindle. Took all of a few paragraphs for me to dig Newton's great prose.

So far, it feels a little like China Mieville meets Steven Erikson (Brynd reminds me of Whiskeyjack a little). That could change, though, I'm not very far.


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