Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Kaaron Warren


Do we need lies to cushion us from the horror of reality? In this novel the answer is a resolute "yes", because disaster is never far away when the veil of illusion slips. It tells the story of Marvo, who spends his early life confined to a hidden room in a house with only his grandmother for company. The house is occupied by men with machine guns who are intent on finding and shooting them both.

So Marvo grows up under constant threat of discovery and death, and he's forced to steal food in the night and speak only in a whisper. In the confines of the room he teaches himself magic. But he already has an innate ability, a kind of mist that he can manipulate to make people see what he wants them to. Eventually he emerges into the wide world, which is more or less our own although the exact date and place aren't specified. Outside he finds different dangers. His curiosity about other people like him could attract unwanted attention, and if he fails to use the mist in the right way the consequences can be catastrophic.

As well as performing magic, Marvo makes it his life's mission to collect stories. The text is peppered with the short yarns he gathers as he barters his services in return for a certain version of truth. The storytellers aren't always honest, though. People's desire to believe comforting lies is a common thread that runs through many of the tales.

I did have problems with the formal way these stories were told. In fact the whole novel is related in this way, with omniscient narration and short, clipped sentences. I found it too impersonal because it often makes it hard to distinguish between one voice and another, and there's little chance to see things from each character's point of view. Nothing about stories requires them to be told impersonally. When you're getting down and dirty with another's thoughts, feelings and intimate lives in a narrative, that's about as personal as it's possible to be with your clothes still on. The formal style in Mistification diminishes the impact of this.

As Marvo learns more he develops a friendship with the odd, quiet, superstitious Andra. Some would call Andra a witch. At this point you might suppose the author might introduce some romance, but this isn't a conventional story and it can't be expected to conform to any standard pattern. In the middle of the novel the tension is fairly lax until the appearance of Dr Reid, a sceptic who sees Marvo as a threat. Then Marvo has premonitions of a terrible future, and perhaps his own death. But what lengths will he go to in order to prevent it, and is it even in his power to change his fate?

Mistification gathers momentum towards the end, but like its main character it is always subtle and rarely violent. The stories-within-a-story begin to come together so that they're greater than their individual parts. Death, superstition, strange births, and the need to believe the best of oneself are some of the themes that appear in a lot of them.

The ending is startling and strange. The imagery and events put me in mind of a certain religious story, but this isn't in your face and readers are left to draw their own conclusions about what this means. There's certainly a lot to think about, and Marvo is more compelling than a quiet, oddly sexless magician whose main passion is for stories has any right to be. But the novel's unorthodox style is challenging. This book is hard to engage with, and for no good reason I can fathom Kaaron Warren has deliberately written it this way (she refers to the formal style in the book itself), although it's worth the effort.

24th May 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson