The Web: Sorceress Maggie Furey (Dolphin, £3.50, 102 pages, paperback). February 1998.
The mysterious figure of the Sorceress has been behind the scenes of all of the first five books in the Web series -- the villain of the piece, willing to do anything in her quest to find a way to subvert the Web in order to make herself immortal, in one form or another. Formulaic, perhaps, but the Sorceress formula is intrinsic to the whole venture -- the plot-motif on which each of the six series authors has hung their own stories.
Possibly the hardest task falls to the sixth author: in Sorceress, Maggie Furey has to bring everything together, she has to give the series shape and focus. A weak final volume and we might reflect very differently on the series as a whole.
Sorceress opens with a fairly standard piece of action from a Web-based game: virtual knight versus virtual dragon. It's soon over and the two protagonists, Jack and Eleni, revert to their normal Web-forms (or 'phaces', in the techno-jargon of the series). They want to add a few new features to a virtual castle they're building, so they head off to the Menagerie, a kind of clip art warehouse where anyone can copy designs for Web-based animals to populate their own bits of Web-space. But the Menagerie has disappeared...
Soon there's another mystery: Eleni, in her dragon guise, encounters the now-familiar (to the reader) Sorceress, who mistakes her for some other dragon and chases her.
Further complications come in the form of Jack's Realworld neighbour, Anna, who is one of the Web's top games designers, and Jack and Eleni's friend, the moody and unpredictable Cat, who only ever takes the form of a feline and will reveal nothing of her real life.
Furey ties up the Web series in compelling and exciting manner: Sorceress is a helter-skelter adventure romp that's hard to put down. The author strikes a fine balance between persuasive portrayal of the Web and a convincing and involving portrayal of Realworld -- these kids have lives, after all!
Sorceress is a good illustration of the strength of the Web concept for young readers: the protagonists are empowered by the Web. In the Web you can be anyone and everyone is treated on equal terms -- it's an escape from all the restrictions of parental, and other, authority. So when the Web is threatened it's the Web-sophisticated teenagers from around the world who have the most to lose.
The authors of this series are mostly familiar to us from their adult works, and the Web books give us another take on their fiction. One thing is clear: most of these authors could easily forge parallel careers in young adult fiction (Stephen Baxter already has, with the first of his three mammoth novels due out from Orion in 1999).
For these authors, the Web series could easily have been little more than a diversion, a bit of hack-work, and the end product no more than a few lightweight romps that would have done justice neither to the authors nor to the young readers. But something synergistic happened when the six contributors got together with their editor to work up the background to the series. The result is a set of books that have at least three important functions for British sf:
So the series is clearly worth the attention of anyone with an interest in the state of British sf. Naturally, the requirements of children's fiction are different to those of adult fiction, so older readers will have to make allowances, but anyone looking for diverting and enjoyable pieces of entertainment from some of our top authors need look no further than at least four of the six Web novels.
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© Nick Gifford 22 February 1998