Huso, Anthony -- The Last Page

It's rare to see someone get the New Weird tone right. It's not about transgressive body squick and creepy monsters (although those never hurt); it's the modernist tone taken to fantasy. Technologies of magic, bureaucracy of necromancy, financial transactions of the soul. Mixed metaphors that turn unexpectedly literal. Set it in this world and you get Matthew Swift; invent a new world and you have Mieville. (We will discuss Max Gladstone at another time.)

This book gets the tone right, but the story isn't strong enough to support it, I'm afraid. It starts out great: a university of magic (always a win), a library at the university (you've got my attention), petty students tangling with corrupt faculty and sneaking out to get laid. (Not my university experience but I'll accept it as a fantasy motif.)

Post this introduction, however, it gets thin. The protagonists are the heir to the High Throne and a witch. The witch wants to locate a magic book of magicness. The prince wants -- well, it doesn't matter what he wants, because a civil war just started and he's got to play realpolitik.

Nothing wrong with that stuff as a setup; I just don't think the author carries it through very well. The conflicts are all blunt and uninteresting. The witch needs to betray the prince to open the magic book, but she secretly likes him; the prince needs to use technology to save his city, but the technology is evil; the spymaster has a plan... it's characters built to support history, not vice versa.

Then, later, the plot outruns the author's ability to clue me in on what's going on. People scheme, go insane, run around, and betray each other. I didn't understand why. There's a royal ghost. Two royal ghosts? Not sure.

The language is fruitily over-the top. I wound up feeling drowned in synonyms. Well-chosen synonyms, but way overused. Ironically, at one point the witch explains that magic is most powerful when it uses as few words as possible. I think the author failed to re-read that bit. The use of diacritical marks is also over-the-top, although, to be fair, I enjoyed seeing fake language that went beyond apostrophes and Tolkienesque vowels-and-umlauts. (I'll spare you examples. I think they were in the style of romanized Vietnamese script?)

I think I want to revisit this author in a few years, when he's gotten some more experience. Will skip the rest of this series, try again on his next one.

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