The Light Ages by Ian R. MacLeod
The Light Ages is far from light reading. Anyone wanting a quick read or the typical multi-book fantasy focusing on a questing band of travelers beset by evil should look elsewhere.
Instead Macleod gives us a land more evoked than described, beautiful at times poetic prose, three-dimensional characters (including the “evil” ones), questions that aren’t always neatly answered, and a pace that would be described as slow by many but which I found perfectly suited to the nature of the novel. There is rebellion, both personal and societal; corruption, both personal and societal; and finally, frustratingly and (realistically) only after fits and starts, change both personal and societal.
What there is not is a lot of magic or spell-casting or simplistic conflict. The magical aether which is the center of the Dickensian society and which has caused industrial stagnation (why progress industrially if magic can do a worse but still adequate job?), though at the core of much of the societal action and the more personal “mystery,” serves more as a backdrop to what is after all a character-driven story of change and discovery.
MacLeod does not stint his secondary characters, all of whom are drawn with the same level of detail and interest as his main ones. The plot will tug (though not drag) you along, but it will be the characters and the evocative descriptions of situations and settings that will keep you reading.
The Light Ages — (2003-2005) Alternate history fantasy. Publisher: In a bleak and gritty England, in a fantastical Age of Industry, the wealth that comes from magic is both revered and reviled. Here, an ambitious young man is haunted by his childhood love — a woman determined to be a part of the world he despises.
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