Cybermage is Alma Alexander’s third book in the Worldweavers series and one that can satisfyingly close this particular series though I hesitate to ever use the word “concluding” with any fantasy trilogy as authors (or nervous publishers/agents) are wont to reopen allegedly “done” series.
Cybermage picks up just a little while after book two ended and while this book can stand on its own, with an independent storyline, it will make much more sense and be all the richer for having read the previous two (Gift of the Unmage and Spellspam), especially as there’s a larger story arc that runs through the entire trilogy — one that’s layered over each book’s own unique plot.
The first two books, as mentioned in my earlier reviews of each, were a bit uneven, but still well worth reading as their strengths outweighed their flaws. The same holds true for Cybermage.
One consistent strength is the main character, Thea, a fully-fleshed out character from the very start who continues to grow with each book. Too often, fantasy authors tend to equate “growth in power” with “growth of character.” But while Thea’s magical abilities do increase with each book, far more interesting is her personal growth — how she deals with her still-unfolding power, her changing interactions with her peers (who themselves are changing), how she deals with authority figures, and the way she responds to the moral implications of plot events. And these plot events do indeed have moral implications. And those moral repercussions, as they do in real life, linger. Many times characters may struggle at “the big moment,” but tune in 30 pages later and it’s often as if “the moment” never existed; the character has blithely moved on. Not here. Thea’s actions in book two reverberate throughout book three, having a direct impact on decisions she makes. Perhaps a more concise way of saying this is that Alexander has chosen to tell a story about a character who happens to use magic, rather than tell a magic story that happens to have a character in it.
Another major character in Cybermage is Tesla (yes, that Tesla), the only “quad-mage” the human world ever knew. Explaining how he goes from being in the past tense to being a major character would spoil things a bit, but he’s a worthy new addition to the overall storyline. So worthy in fact that I wish we’d seen more of him — his torment, his wildness, his tragedy. It’s all there and in more than sufficient form, but he’s so rich in potential it’s hard not to want more (though there’s the danger of him taking too much attention).
Other characters aren’t as strong as Thea and Tesla. We don’t spend as much time with them as in earlier books, or at least it seemed that way, and until the end they’re really more plot devices. That sounds worse that it is — we’ve seen enough of them before to accept them as full characters; it’s just that in this book they’re mostly just asked to move plot along — we don’t deal so much with their own interior struggles. Her friend Magpie, especially, could have done with more book time. We see her at the start as an example of the personality transformation that can strike adolescents and her sudden distance is one of Thea’s character subplots — both the subplot and Magpie probably deserved more time. Especially as Magpie has a major scene toward the end, one that has some power but could have had even more.
Along with character, Alexander’s willingness to explore darker aspects of story has been another plus throughout the series. There is some of that here — especially in the scene with Magpie above, but also in the two girls’ increasing separation, in Thea’s changing relationship with all her friends and with Humphrey (head of a sort of human security group), her increasing loss of innocence in her view of the world, her growing sense of isolation and difference even amidst “success,” and in some of Tesla’s storyline as well. It’s not quite as powerful here as in earlier books. We could have spent more time building up to some of it, or lingering over it, and some of the sacrifices get robbed a bit of their bite soon afterward (vague, I know, but I don’t want to spoil the plot).
One such sacrifice is robbed a bit of its potential impact because we don’t quite understand how the magic/magical world works, even after three books. We’re told in this particular instance that what the character gives up is a very big deal, but we never really feel it. The books lack that grounded sense of reality that worlds like LeGuin’s Earthsea and Harry Potter have, where we get a much better sense of how magic is incorporated into society. We get a nice little coffee shop scene here where we see a bit of nonchalant everyday magic — more of that sprinkled throughout the series would have gone a long way to giving us a better sense of where magic stood in relation to how people live. One feels the same way about the story’s “universe” in general which involves several other non-human races — we’re told enough to understand plot, to figure out tensions, but while we can intellectualize those moments, it would be better to feel them because we’re immersed in the created world.
The same is true though to a lesser extent with regard to Thea’s computer magic — we see what she does often enough, but we don’t get much of a sense of context. And at times it threatens to be too powerful, too easy, especially with the addition of a wrist computer at the start. This device edges at times uncomfortably close to a deus ex machina though, to her credit, Alexander pulls back in the nick of time at those moments.
The close of Cybermage, as has often been the case with the series, has some of the strongest moments and writing, though part of me wished she’d closed it down a few pages sooner (though maybe that’s just my preference for dark). It brings a definite sense of resolution to this book’s singular plot and a semi-resolution to the overarching storyline. Semi because while readers could be satisfied with where we stand at the end, it doesn’t close down the story of Thea. Mostly because Thea herself doesn’t close down as a character; she opens instead. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing more in this world — more of Thea, more of the other races — and my guess is that Alma Alexander will be receiving lots of fan emails/letters asking for just that. She’d get no objection from me. Recommended.