Book Review 2009 #19: Mortal Coils

Well, I am finally out of Advance Reader Copies (although I am always open to receiving more of them, dontcha know). So its back to my own reading pile, and a return to an author who hasn’t written a non media tie in novel for a very long time.
Once upon a time there was a fantasy/sf author named Eric Nylund. He wrote a couple of intriguing novels, not the least because another beloved author, Roger Zelazny, was explicitly an inspiration in his writing. In point of fact, his novel Dry Water has a character who is a deceased author in New Mexico who seems very very much like the (then recently deceased) Roger Zelazny. And another of his novels was inspiring enough for me to borrow elements of it for a one shot at Ambercon.
Unfortunately the author did not sell well enough to avoid having to write endless media tie in novels, from Crimson skies to HALO. Now, though, after years in that wilderness, Eric Nylund is back with an original novel of his own…

Fiona and Eliot Post are two orphans on the cusp of their fifteenth birthday. Living with their grandmother in a strangely strict regimen of rules, their lives are relatively dull and uninteresting. The myriad non fiction books (fictional books are forbidden!) provide much of the entertainment and life for these homeschooled twins, whose only outside outlet is their work in a nearby pizza parlor.
Their fifteenth birthday, however, coincides with the discovery of them by outside powers, and the discovery by them that their parents are scions of competing supernaturally powered families. Now at the center of a custody fight between gods and demons, set on trials by the gods and tempted by the demons, Fiona and Eliot soon realize just how protected and safe their previous, constricted existence really was.
The novel reminded me of L Jagi Lamplighter’s Prospero’s Lost. It’s clear that both novels have read, and been influenced by Roger Zelazny. The tone and the worlds created, though, are somewhat different and I think a good analogy is to think of another pair of writers, C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien. With her explictly Christian framework to the mythology of her supernatural modern day universe, Lamplighter’s Prospero’s Lost is the C.S. Lewis in this formulation. Nylund’s novel, on the other hand, does not have that explicit framework. In fact, the novel seems to suggest that the appearances of supernatural beings throughout history have all been members of the various families depicted and hinted at in this book. In this way, its a more, for lack of a better work, pagan formulation than Lamplighter’s.
Turning aside from the comparison, the novel itself is replete with all sorts of delights. The twins are well drawn and have a complicated sibling relationship which I found believable and a delight. I particularly liked the vocabulary/reference game that the two play. Only having had years of non fiction volumes to read for recreation, the twins are perfectly comfortable in making obscure references. For example, early in the novel, Fiona refers to Eliot being sick by asking if he has Nagleria fowleri(a type of amoeba contracted in water).
Another delight in the novel is the footnotes. While he doesn’t pepper the text with the frequency of, say, Jack Vance, the novel’s text and narrative is replete and enriched by the occasional footnote which makes observations from what seems to be the future of the events depicted. This further enriches and complicates the world and its narrative in a way that helps suggest that the world “continues” beyond the borders of its pages. The Playground of the Imagination, as Larry Niven calls it.
The characters themselves, beyond the Twins, on both sides of their relations, are a host that are complicated, complex and completely well drawn. Not all of the Gods could be considered good by even the most charitable reading of the text, and not all of the Infernals can be considered completely and irredeemably evil.
The novel is clearly and explicitly the first in a series, and I do hope that the novel sells well enough that Mr. Nylund has the opportunity to write and publish more of the books. I definitely will be looking forward to reading the subsequent volumes. As I implied before, people like me, who love Zelazny are going to cotton to this novel very well. (Hey, it has a character named *Fiona* who winds up having supernatural abilities. How can you say no to that?!). Nylund, thankfully, has had his time in the wilderness of media-tie-in novels not go to waste. The writing is engaging, inventive and enthralling.
Highly Recommended.