RogerBW's Blog

Lost Things, Melissa Scott and Jo Graham 06 January 2017

2012 historical fantasy, first in the Order of the Air series. In 1929, as Lake Nemi is drained in search of its archaeological treasures, an ancient evil is loosed. Only four heroic aviator-magicians will be able to fight it.

This is two ideas for a book jammed together. On the one hand you've got magical shenanigans very much in the style of Mercedes Lackey's Diana Tregarde books: there's a horrible magical creature loose, and there are so few magicians that these four who know about it have to be the ones to deal with it before it takes over Mussolini (it's already had Caligula). And on the other hand, this is the barnstorming era of aviation, and our heroes run an air charter service, so there's excitement in the sky as well.

And it nearly works. The aviation is well-researched, though bringing in ahistorical aircraft seems odd, and their millionaire manufacturer is odder, fitting awkwardly into real Hollywood glamour. (Why not just use Howard Hughes?) The magic, well, it's by-the-numbers Lackeyish Wiccan, and if I couldn't help a slight snigger at the way this is all sticking to the stock forms even though it's well before Gardner and mostly before Murray, well, that's an intrinsic consequence of the premise.

But with all this great material to draw on, the pacing is strangely slow: our heroes spend pages eating and dressing, with one of them occasionally saying "I should do some research about a way of defeating this creature" and the others telling him he's too tired and should go to sleep. There are multiple points of view in the third-person narrative, but they aren't well-signed, and everyone seems to think roughly the same way anyway. In the end, our heroes don't succeed through their own efforts.

But there is an excellent sequence set aboard an airship with a saboteur aboard, and for my money I could have done with more of the heroic aviation and less of the heroic magic. (Though other readers found the detail tedious.) I've read Misty Lackey's books, and since Scott and Graham didn't (at least on the evidence of this book) have an original and interesting take on the occult I'd almost have preferred they leave it out completely and concentrate on the under-served field of piloting stories.

So in the end it's… OK, I guess? It doesn't offend exactly, but there's an awful lot of crust and not enough meat in this pie. Followed by Steel Blues.

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Series: Order of the Air | Next in series: Steel Blues

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