Thursday, September 07, 2006

The House of Storms - Ian R. MacLeod

The House of Storms
Ian R. MacLeod


Alice Meynell has managed, by use of hard work, scheming, use of magic, and even murder to overcome her low birth to rise to the top of the social ladder. In this alternate Victorian-ish England, Alice is Greatgrandmistress of the very powerful Telegraphers Guild. But all that power is useless in her fight to save her consumptive son, Ralph. There is neither magic nor medicine that can heal him. Desperate to save her son, and her family dynasty, Alice does something nearly unthinkable. She takes him to those called the Changed.

Almost a century ago, the world’s technology was changed forever by the discovery of magic, known as aether. Those who were exposed to aether for prolonged periods where altered in a fundamental way. They are now known as the Changed, and they live apart from the rest of society. When they are able to heal her son, Alice believes she is free to continue her machinations. But Ralph isn’t following his mother’s plan for him. He becomes fascinated with the natural sciences, and evolution in particular. He falls in love with Marion Price, a serving girl who Alice feels is beneath their family’s status.

As Ralph grows into adulthood, tensions begin to escalate between the more technological society of the East and the agrarian slaveholding society of the West of England. It’s clear that a civil war is brewing, and thanks to the maneuverings of Alice, Ralph and Marion soon find themselves on opposite sides of a brutal war. The key to ending the conflict and moving the world forward may lie with the Changelings and a very special child entrusted to them.

The book is split into two sections. The first details Ralph’s youth and contains complex character development and beautiful world building. The second section builds on this foundation and deals with the civil and political strike that threatens to destroy their society. Each character is truly layered. There are no cardboard cutout characters here. Even the most villainous character has moments of decency; even the good guys falter. The co-existence of magic and technology gives rise to unusual, but realistic problems. The narrative weaves together social, economic, political, and personal stories in an amazing tapestry of human experience. This is a very successful melding of alternative history and fantasy, not to be missed.

Rating: 9 1/2
August 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01342-2 (trade paperback)


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