Saturday, May 26, 2012

100 Books #47 - Brand Gamblin's DISCOUNT MIRACLES

"When your sovereign catches fire and takes off like a bird in flight, all ties are in question."

Readers of this blog already know that I'm bullish on Brand Gamblin's imagination. I'm terribly pleased to share, therefore, that with this new release, his stock is still rising: the storytelling is still beguilingly top notch and appropriate for all ages, and the niggling little complaints I had about the editing of his previous novels have been addressed, leaving even picky readers like me with nothing to worry about but enjoying the tale.

And enjoy it I did!

Discount Miracles could do very well as a lost/extended Firefly script, if Mal, Kayleigh and Jayne survived a bad crash onto an inhabited planet with a gender-swapped Saffron (not a member of the crew, he is just as amoral and manipulative as Saffron but he is indeed a dude) and had to make their way through a society at a superstitious and medieval level of development. Their only stock in trade: science, which they find themselves pressured by various forces of necessity and local politics into using to stage "miracles" -- a practice with many short-term advantages, but with potentially longer-term consequences. Too much success and they risk persecution as witches; failure means exposure as frauds. Either has definite pitchforks-and-torches potential.

And of course there are lovely complications. Robert, the somewhat brainier Jayne figure, is furious with the rest of the crew for seeming to give up so easily on getting back into space; Anvir, the Saffronesque rogue, is all about manipulating the rubes for the sake of manipulating the rubes; Dannia, the charming Kayleigh analog, has fallen for a local woodcutter whose love notes to her take the form of flaming wooden crop circles only visible from her "metal broomstick."

Adding to the fun is the crew's main, if unwitting, client for their miracles, the uncommonly born commoner, Dayner Raeburn, whose status as the thirteenth son of a thirteenth daughter has vaulted him not only into the spotlight but into royalty: there is a prophecy on this world saying that such a boy will ascend to some kind of transcendent state on his 20th birthday and Make Everything Better. He's spoilt and willful and snotty and basically comes off, quite a bit of the time, as a less homicidal Prince Joffery*, which is most enjoyable. Once he "ascends" and leaves behind a power vacuum, the novel takes on a whole new dimension, full of schemes and double-crosses and hardball politics, even as a lot of the action has moved to the other side of the planet.

The novel, too, invokes Star Trek, as the ship's crew and stowaway find themselves rather hotly debating how much technology it's safe -- and ethical -- to reveal and share, whether or not helping Prince Raeburn's "ascension" is worse than some of the trading the stowaway has done on the side, and, of course, whether or not they have any chance at all to be rescued.

I could have done with a smidgeon more battling, especially in the climax, but I'm probably one of those bad, bad people who have become desensitized to violence, and Gamblin does try to keep his appeal as broad across the generations as possible. This book is not as sweet or charming as its predecessors, but it's still something that I, were I a parent, would be happy to let any young science fiction fans in the family read after I was done with it.

*See George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, in the first two novels of which Joffery is one of the more over-the-top villains. Indeed, in more ways than one, the elevator pitch for this book could be Firefly meets a G-rated Game of Thrones, with a soupcon of H.P. Lovecraft.

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