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by James Lovegrove

(Gollancz, hardback, £18.99, 453 pages, ISBN 0-575-07387-X; trade paperback, £10.99, 452 pages; published 23 September 2004.)

Review by John Toon

In Jarraine, Gregory Brazier, the younger son of a prominent Fire Inclined family, is sent cover scanaway from home when his talent emerges and proves something of a family embarrassment. In the Water Inclined archipelago of Li*issua, the orphan Yashu, having reached adulthood without manifesting a talent, is driven from her home by the destructive cruelty of the Worldstorm. In Stonehaven, the previsionary Annonax Ayn abandons comfortable seclusion, in the company of his scribe Khollo, to pursue a lunatic agenda that he already knows will be interrupted by his murder. In a world defined by superpowers corresponding to the four Elements and ravaged by a vast never-ending storm, these four together could be an unprecedented force for change.

There are the makings of a straightforward three-part epic quest fantasy here, but James Lovegrove isn't the sort to take the straightforward option. Worldstorm lacks the tidy resolution generally required by yer traditional epic fantasy tale; instead, the story's prime mover and the one character likely to tie up the loose ends, namely the manipulative Ayn, is murdered before his plans can come to fruition, and he isn't able to see further than his own death. Just what his plans are, and who kills him and why, isn't revealed to us until Lovegrove's prose has us firmly in its grasp--Ayn may know, but we're not allowed to peek--and it's these mysteries that lure us on to the final pages. In Ayn's absence, the other characters move on and resolve the problems in their own lives instead--violent conflict between Inclinations in Gregory's home town, Yashu's profound loss, Khollo's feelings of displacement. The big answers--what brought the Worldstorm into being, how it can be undone (if at all), whether it's linked to the four Inclinations--remain unknown and unknowable. It's a more down-to-earth mode of story-telling, and one typical of Lovegrove. Things happen, people come to terms with it, that's about the best you can hope for.

The narrative is split into three viewpoints, which has its drawbacks as well as its advantages. The main benefit to having different characters' trains of thought overlap is that one can present events in a new light, undermine other characters' interpretation of those events, etc; the main downside is needless repetition. Sadly, here I think the latter outweighs the former. However, there's a lot of nice character work to be found throughout, particularly in the sections that follow Gregory. Yashu is far more comfortably alone in a far more tolerant society than Gregory, and Ayn and Khollo have chosen their solitude, so most of the dramatic tension in the book seems to gravitate towards Gregory, who is aggressively segregated from his family and then finds himself in the middle of open warfare between his native and adoptive communities. To tell the truth, I started to view the Yashu and Ayn sections as obstacles between me and the next Gregory bit, and while they're not awful they do tend to drag a bit. The excitement and action of Gregory's storyline makes up for it overall, in my opinion.

All in all, Worldstorm isn't as even a work as Lovegrove's previous novels, but it still knocks spots off most of the competition. A sequel isn't in the offing, for which thank goodness: it'd be a horribly predictable thing to do, and predictability is a crime James Lovegrove can't be accused of.

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