Dreamweilder and Tales of the Talisman.
So, I did my first “professional” book review. It’s available here on Songs in Squee Minor and also in the very latest copy of Tales of the Talisman, Volume 8, Issue 4. This particular issue has a lot of great stories with some steampunk influences, so if you like speculative fiction or steampunk, you should check it out. Right now Amazon is only showing the paper copy, but it should be available for kindle very shortly.
A prophesy foretells of Emperor Thedric Guderian’s death at the hands of a dreamweilder, a sorceress with the ability to make her dreams into reality. Thus begins Guderian’s mission to expand his empire, destroy all magic, and establish technology as the supreme deity of the land. Young Makarria comes of age in a time when magic is nearly extinct. Her family knows she is a dreamweilder and dreads the danger she could bring upon them if her abilities are discovered. After a particularly powerful dream draws the attention of the Emperor’s magic hunters, Makarria flees with her grandfather. Their flight begins the chain of events leading to the final battle that will either abolish magic once and for all or fulfill the prophesy of Guderian’s doom.
Dreamweilder acknowledges traditional sword and sorcery elements without devoting a lot of page space to building a broad fantasy backdrop. Magic is readily available to its users without lengthy training or rituals, or special words or objects. Ancient elves, faeries, and talking unicorns will not make an appearance, but there is a very cool scent-hound: part woman, part beast, part machine used by the Emperor’s men to detect the presence of magic.
Dreamweilder’s dialogue is plainspoken and avoids extensive rhetoric. The novel’s voice is very prosaic and not indicative of any particular time period. Calcaterra nods to conventional fantasy in naming characters like Caile and Makarria; and in the christening of mythic lands like Pyrthinia and Sargoth, but there are few “Thees” and “Thous” and no made up languages to discourage a tentative audience.
Calcaterra takes the sharpest turn away from classical fantasy by integrating a steampunk component. The beginning of Dreamweilder reads as medieval, but once the audience travels to the realm of Sargoth, where Emperor Guderian has established his throne, we understand this story takes place at the turn of an era, the ending of an agrarian society and the establishment of an industrial one. While Prince Caile from Pyrthinia gallops around on horseback and Makarria and her grandfather voyage the oceans on a sailing ship, the residents of Sargoth travel in steam powered carriages and traverse the skies in airships. Phillip Pullman did something similar in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Calcaterra’s juxtaposition, however, falls short of Pullman’s mastery of nuanced political and religious commentary.
Most of Dreamweilder’s characters, like the Emperor, are categorically good or evil. Wulfram, the Emperor’s henchman is cold and vicious. Makarria is sweet and adventuresome. Her grandfather is brave and loyal. There are no sympathetic villains or anti-heroes harboring uncertain loyalties. Never will a character leave the reader guessing of his or her intentions.
Dreamweilder is ultimately an adventure story that will appeal to a broad age group. The main heroes are young, the language is mild, and the violence is moderate. I may have wished for a little more sophistication and complexity in character development and world building, but action adventure fans will be pleased with Calcaterra’s knack for cutting away flab and getting straight to the plot. A grand, epic tale this is not, but it does deliver a lot of swashbuckling fun.