Science fiction and fantasy

The Four Realms

by Adrian Faulkner


Maureen Summerglass is my favourite old lady character since Granny Weatherwax. Sadly that isn't saying much, because the pages of modern genre fiction are hardly awash with old ladies. Maureen is 82, and after spending her life as the guardian of a magic portal in her basement she's all at sea. Her beloved friend Ernest, a wizard, has been found dead and she's determined to find out who is responsible.

Meanwhile Darwin and Cassidy are scratching a miserable living masquerading as bums. Darwin is a half-vampire, and Cassidy a fallen angel. At her insistence he's trying to stay on the wagon blood-wise, but the effort is leaving him starved and unhealthy and a sniff of the red stuff tips him over the edge. But when he finds the body of an old man something has soured the corpse's blood, and all they get from him is an old notebook neither of them can read.

Unfortunately for Darwin and Cassidy, a group of aliens posing in human bodies are desperate to obtain this notebook. They want access to the magic or technology that allows Earth to have portals between dimensions, and they aren't fussy about who they kill whilst getting it. One of these aliens, Mr West, is a bit of a maverick. Whilst the rest of his species value data modelling and absolute certainty above all else, he's prepared to take risks and rely on probabilities to get things done. It's a peculiar dogma that could only exist in a society used to crunching vast amounts of information in supercomputers, but this makes them seem convincingly alien. Well, that and the large numbers of tentacles they all have.

Behind Maureen's door is Venefasia, a realm of wizards, friendly trolls, dwarves, and particularly shifty elves. Maureen has guarded this portal all her life, but she hasn't been allowed beyond it before. Women aren't supposed to be able to use magic, and the only humans in this realm are wizards. It's a backwards place with some quite restrictive rules. She's determined to find out the truth, but no-one else is looking into Ernest's case, and people keep telling her to back off and stay in her place. Maureen worries about her future and heating, and she's believably frail. She also has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bad language. Her grief about Ernest and her feelings of duty towards Joseph, her troll friend, are quite poignant. But she has reached the end of her tether, and she's at a point in her life when she thinks she has nothing to lose. I was cheering for her throughout, but towards the end she really rocks. I think she's especially cool because she has to work for everything, and she's not some overpowered nuclear bomb of magic.

By contrast Darwin has all the physical attributes of a superhero, as a daywalking vampire. But he has no confidence. He's torn between trying to please Cassidy by suppressing his blood lust, and trying to fit in with vampire kind. The vampires threw him out some years ago, but they've come under attack by the tentacled aliens. Darwin sees this as his chance to redeem himself by leading the remaining vampires to safety. However his eagerness to do this makes him incautious. His race is on the brink of destruction, and he's an unlikely saviour at best.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery that mashes up modern urban fantasy with aliens and a more traditional fantasy world that's in a state of gradual modernisation. Once in a while clunky sentence constructions jolted me out of the story a bit, but the characters were so well realised that I always wanted to get straight back in. The portal style of this novel means there's some variety in the tone, so it can be gritty and serious in one chapter and light and comical in the next. However this range doesn't mean that it's confusing or overcrowded with characters. Rather, the main characters are consistently engaging and the new worlds Adrian Faulkner lets his readers glimpse are tantalising.

17th January 2013

Book Details

Year of release: 2012

Categories: Books

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