Science fiction and fantasy
by Becca Mills
However, everything turns on its head after Cordus disappears for a while and the political situation amongst other strong Seconds becomes unstable. She must go on a long journey through many different worlds to learn something about a very old entity whose emergence threatens war between some of the most powerful Seconds. At least, that's the reason Beth was told she was going. And she has to travel with John Williams, a dangerous man who she knows little about and doesn't trust an inch.
Many of the worlds they travel through, known as stratum, were created by non-humans who also have magical abilities, and they're very ancient. It's like a journey through different eras of prehistory with a fantastic twist. There don't seem to be any limits to the kinds of things essence-workers (essentially magic users) can do. So it's a very high magic world. But there is a cost: early on we meet a creature who hungers insatiably and destroys most things its comes across, which serves as a lesson in what can go wrong if magic is used carelessly.
Beth Ryder is an archetypal Chosen One, starting off without parents in as close to a farm yokel position as is possible in modern America - she's a small-town waitress with no prospects and no idea about her own potential. She's disadvantaged by her history of panic attacks, but also pretty normal, likeable, and occasionally gutsy without being a hard nut. I had no problem rooting for her for hundreds of pages. Although Beth is the kind of noraml character who makes for easy self-insertion into a story she's far from bland. She's got a keen sense of humour, and she's as unpredictable as her magic can be.
Solatium isn't as steamy as Nolander, which saw the handsome Lord Cordus making Beth feel very enamoured of him. He's out of the picture for most of this novel, which is nevertheless perhaps much more romantic from an unexpected angle. It's not explicit, it's more of a dawning realisation that there is something unspoken growing between two characters.
Once Beth moves out of our world she meets with a small team of people with different skills, and they help her on her difficult journey through desert, forest and sea. They have frequent brushes with death. There are betrayals, twists, and mysteries about nearly all of the secondary characters' motives. Mizzy, an actress who seems nice enough at first glance and who can manipulate emotions skilfully with her words, is just one character who comes under suspicion. Beth finds she knows very little about other characters, about herself, and about her own abilities. She constantly wonders whether she will hurt those she befriends or if she'll be targeted and enslaved by those more powerful than her.
Overall this has all the ingredients of a rollicking good yarn. It's interesting because the different worlds draw on prehistory or history, but they also re-imagine evolution and cleverly mix in myth, so the world-building is original and fascinating. Yet the psychological believability of many characters was the main element drawing me in. Solatium isn't a stand-alone. It feels like the middle of a trilogy in the sense that it's darker than the first book and it ends with a high level of tension and many unanswered questions. This story left me gasping to get my hands on the next novel in the series.
11th October 2015
If you like this, try:Hateful Heart by Sam Stone
A group of vampires travel back in time to protect themselves from a supernatural weapon. The fourth in the Vampire Gene series.
Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear
In this sequel to The Lost World, a young man and his father accompany a travelling dinosaur circus.
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy