Aluminum Leaves (2019) is the debut novella by Marion Deeds, who is also part of the review team here at Fantasy Literature. Because Marion is one of our own, we are not going to give Aluminum Leaves a star rating — but we still wanted to highlight her work in the field of speculative fiction. We are very excited to see her share her work with the world.
Aluminum Leaves begins with a house fire; Erin Dosmanos is escaping her crumbling home in more ways than one, as it quickly becomes apparent that she is not only fleeing the fire, but plans to go through a portal to another world. This novella, the first in the BROKEN CITIES series, is the story of how Erin uses her quick wits and specific skills to protect a magical item that is intrinsically linked to her family’s legacy.
Erin is fleeing a powerful wizard who is willing to destroy anything, anyone, and any world in order to achieve his goal of collecting four magical items of great power and using them to serve his terrible ambitions. Erin’s family legacy, along with the legacies of other families across various realities, is bound up in those objects, and her entire life has revolved around keeping one of those objects — a special book — safe from harm. When she stumbles through a portal into another world, she encounters Trevian Langtree, a prospector with an uncanny ability to sense copper and some truly complicated family issues of his own. The future of their worlds, and others, depend on Erin’s and Trevian’s capacity to trust one another despite being perfect strangers.
Skye: I am not the type of reader who is particularly interested in setting. Aluminum Leaves is an exception for me. The setting(s) stood out to me — and maybe it’s because I have a latent admiration for portal fantasies, or because the world-jumping was communicated in a novel way — but I remained engaged with and curious about the world of the story.
Jana: I also liked the setting(s), and I thought the portal fantasy aspect was well-crafted and engaging. Erin’s preparations for potential flight into the unknown, even though she had no way of knowing what the circumstances of that flight might be or where she could end up, were well-thought-out and exceedingly practical, which is something not enough portal-fantasy authors take into account. First-aid kits are a good thing, as are water bottles and energy bars. The descriptions of the chaos of the house fire, later echoed in the descriptions of various elemental beings, were visceral and gripped my imagination.
Bill: I’m with Skye on the love of portal stories, and I particularly liked how this one opens up to more possibilities with a host of worlds, but also with a nice twist of a constraint in that some worlds are more tightly linked to each other than others. I would have liked a bit more setting description of this world, especially as the little tidbits we get, such as the sprawling ancient ruins of cities are so evocative. I also liked how the contrasting settings are used to raise some serious social questions.
Skye: For me, there were a few little snags in how the story unfolded — but in the end I did want to know more and see what happens next. In particular I liked the magic system and how it connected to the setting. I liked how we got a little bit of an understanding of how different magics worked, but I still had questions that would make another story in this world interesting.
Jana: The plot progression was a little rushed — I would have loved to spend more time with Erin and Trevian as they travel together and come to understand one another (or don’t, as is sometimes necessary) so that we, the readers, could get to know them better. I hope that in the future we’ll get to learn even more about the magic system and these two characters, who obviously have complicated backstories and magical talents. I have a lot of questions about where the story goes from here, but they’re excited and anticipatory questions that make me look forward to further installments.
Bill: I’d agree with Jana that the plot was a bit rushed. Similar to the setting, I wouldn’t have minded slowing down and spending more time with it (not a bad complaint). We’re certainly presented with enough in terms of concepts and characters to richly mine — multiple worlds, family issues, loss and grief, other settings unexplored, etc.
With its creative magic system, playfulness of language, and captivating imagery, Aluminum Leaves is engaging and entertaining. We enjoyed this novella quite a lot, and look forward to reading more of the BROKEN CITIES series as well as other future works from Marion. But, as LeVar Burton would say, don’t take our word for it: Go and check out Aluminum Leaves for yourself!