Blaze of Glory: A solid work for younger readers

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Michael Pryor The Laws of Magic 1. Blaze Of GloryBlaze of Glory by Michael Pryor

Blaze of Glory is the first book in Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic series. It’s an engaging YA effort, if not particularly enthralling or captivating, with a solidly interesting main character. As you can tell by my somewhat qualified reaction, it didn’t blow me away, though it was strong enough that I’d take a look at book two.

The series is set in an alternate England (Albion) where the Industrial Revolution took place side by side with a magical revolution. The two are intertwined in the world’s development, though magic is limited in its impact because it relies on individual talent. We appear to be on the brink of World War I as “Holmland” (Germany) and Albion are increasingly at odds (an Albion ship was recently “accidentally” sunk by Holmland).

The main character is Aubrey Fitzwilliam, son of an ex-Prime Minister and former army commander expelled by his own party and now leader of a third party and one who is ringing the warning bell on Holmland. Aubrey’s mother is a star in her own right — an internationally known explorer and naturalist — while his grandmother is a fierce old dame. Aubrey is struggling a bit in military boarding school, save for his magic classes, where he is top of the class.

Aubrey is a mix of a young Sherlock Holmes, Tom Swift (yes, I’m dating myself there), a Hardy Boy (pick one), and Hermione Granger. The Hardy Boys and Tom Swift references are deliberate, as the character and the book overall have a bit of an old-fashioned feel to them, wholly aside from the historical fiction aspect. One reason for this feel is that there’s little “grayness” to the character(s). Aubrey is just a bit too good in what he does. He devises new magic spells and creations on the fly, sometimes in a way that it’s hard to believe haven’t been done before and sometimes in ways that it’s hard to believe a line of businessmen and military contractors wouldn’t be knocking down his door trying to get the goods. It all comes a bit too easily to him. The same is true for his detective skills, his political skills, his spying skills, and so on. At times, one wonders how he’s accumulated so much knowledge and experience without being 30+ years old (as when we learn that he wanders a bad part of town in a disguise where he’s well known to the area’s inhabitants). He’s also simply “good.” We see little petty or flawed in him, save for some arrogance that is presented as mostly endearing.

The same is true of the other characters. His best friend George is the stolid large sidekick with the occasional insight (Watson to Aubrey’s Holmes, George to his Nancy Drew), a heart of gold, always reliable, a good shot, strong-fisted. The female character, Caroline, is a crack shot, master of martial arts, speaker of several languages, and so on. Aubrey’s parents’ stellar positions have already been noted and, when we meet Caroline’s mother, it comes as no surprise that she’s also a paragon.

I can’t call this a major flaw (though I’d say it does place it firmly in the YA more to be enjoyed by younger readers than the YA that can be enjoyed equally by younger and older). Over the course of so many characters and so many situations, though, it does start to wear on the credibility as well as decrease the tension. Part of me thinks Pryor is playing a bit with the genre, part of me is unsure. In either case, it detracts from the reading experience, being either not tongue-in-cheek enough or too monotone and predictable.

The one aspect that makes Aubrey stand out is that he’s “half-dead.” His soul is somewhat separated from his body due to an experiment gone bad, but the potential of this is never fully explored. And since every time he edges closer to tipping into “true death” he merely feels a bit faint, then devises yet another temporary magic fix, his “half-dead” status adds little tension.

The plot really begins when Aubrey and George spoil an assassination attempt on the crown prince. Soon, two highly positioned English magicians are killed and Aubrey investigates. Meanwhile, his father is involved in political machinations that threaten his reputation and position, and the threat of war with Holmland looms over all. The investigations are interesting, complete with a golem, a sort of Hound of the Baskervilles, a dangerous shade protecting a laboratory, and the mysterious Magisterium – the country’s ministry of magic/defense. But there are a few plot contrivances, with characters conveniently in the right place at the right time, that mar the story a little, as does the ease with which Aubrey conjures up (sometimes literally) solutions.

The concept of magic as a language is solid, much better than the wave-of-a-hand-who-cares-how-it-works so often seen in YA fantasy, but I would have liked to have a more firm idea of how it functions in society. And again, Aubrey’s ease of mastery seems a bit blithe and makes one wonder why it doesn’t have more of an impact in society.

As I said, Blaze of Glory is not particularly captivating, certainly not edge-of-the-seat, and I would have liked less near-perfection in the characters, but it did hold my attention, only lagging a bit at the very end. And the Sherlock Holmes/Tom Swift feel to the main character is engaging. It doesn’t match up with works such as Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy (set in similar time and place) or Diane Duane’s Wizard books, but it’s a solid work, especially for younger readers.

The Laws of Magic — (2006-2011) Young adult. Publisher: Best friends Aubrey and George begin their magical high jinks in this first book of the Laws of Magic series. At a weekend shooting party at Prince Albert’s country estate, Aubrey and George find themselves in a hotbed of intrigue and politics. Together they discover a golem, a magical creature built to perform one task — to kill Prince Albert. Aubrey and George are hailed as heroes for foiling the attempt on the prince’s life — but who sent the golem, and why? Aubrey is far too curious to let the authorities handle this one, and he and George start an investigation of their own to get to the bottom of the royal assassination attempt.

YA fantasy book reviews Michael Pryor The Laws of Magic 1. Blaze Of Glory 2. Heart of Gold 3. Word of Honour 4. Time of Trial 5. Moment of TruthYA fantasy book reviews Michael Pryor The Laws of Magic 1. Blaze Of Glory 2. Heart of Gold 3. Word of Honour 4. Time of Trial 5. Moment of TruthYA fantasy book reviews Michael Pryor The Laws of Magic 1. Blaze Of Glory 2. Heart of Gold 3. Word of Honour 4. Time of Trial 5. Moment of TruthYA fantasy book reviews Michael Pryor The Laws of Magic 1. Blaze Of Glory 2. Heart of Gold 3. Word of Honour 4. Time of Trial 5. Moment of TruthYA fantasy book reviews Michael Pryor The Laws of Magic 1. Blaze Of Glory 2. Heart of Gold 3. Word of Honour 4. Time of Trial 5. Moment of TruthYA fantasy book reviews Michael Pryor The Laws of Magic 1. Blaze Of Glory 2. Heart of Gold 3. Word of Honour 4. Time of Trial 5. Moment of Truth 6. Hour of Need


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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