Sunday, 24 April 2005

Book Review: The Light Ages (Ian R. MacLeod)

Wow. Another book related post. I'm really getting ahead of myself here. :-)

I've finally finished a book after three long months, and I figured I'd just get the review over with while it's still fresh in my mind. And here it is:


Title: The Light Ages
Author: Ian R. MacLeod

Aether rules the world. Aether drives the engines, the telegraphs, the very lights of London.

Through the power of aether, and through the secrets and mysteries of the guilds that wield it, England has created a mighty Industrial Age. It is a place of enchanted gardens and grimy terraces, smokestack factories and fantastic beasts. Yet in this great age of the world, Robert Borrows, the insignificant son of a Lesser Toolmaker, holds the key to the world’s future.

Raised in the Yorkshire town of Bracebridge, a place dominated by the pounding of mighty subterranean engines, Robert witnesses the dark side of aether when his mother is transformed into a changeling; less than human, terrible to see. Fleeing to London, he re-encounters the beautiful, mercurial and mysterious Anna Winters, who he first met on a trip to a strange white palace in happier times.

Roaming the vast, Brobdignagian city, all colours, smells and danger, exploring its myriad social layers, from petty criminals and revolutionaries to salon mistresses and opium dreamers, he discovers secrets that will lead him back towards the clouded hills of Bracebridge and the deepest mysteries of aether. For all is not well in England’s green and pleasant land. This Age is ending, in fire and death…

Main characters:
  • Robert Barrows: A revolutionist who was brought up in the aether-mining town of Braceridge, and tries to bring about a new Age to replace the grimy old aether-reliant one
  • Annalise, a.ka. Anna Winters: A sorta childhood friend of Roberts, who is not quite who (or what) she realy seems

What I Liked:

  • The book is set in a Victorian Age England that is far removed from the one that we know, because of the discovery of Aether. It's familiar (to those who are familiar with Victorian Age England, that is), yet different, and makes for a great premise.
  • Magic may be the central theme of the book, but it's also not the main cog in the wheel. Sure, the whole story revolves around Aether, but it remains in the background most of the time, giving it a rather mysterious feel aboutthe book, as if it's real-life fantasy.
  • The concept of magic in the book - fueled by Aether, which is mined from the ground - is intriguing, combining both fantasy and science fiction in a rather matter-of-fact way.

What I didn't Like:

  • Sometimes the story plods along some somewhat pointless paths, which to me had no objective other than to allow Robert to meet certain characters.
  • I didn't really FEEL for the characters, even Robert. They just felt somewhat aloof to me.
  • The beginning of the book which talks about Robert's past is somewhat slow.


I can't decide whether I like this book or not. On one hand, it's a bit slow and sometimes tedious, but then, the whole premise and environment is decribed so vividly that you can't help being sucked into the world yourself.

I liked the concept of magic here, and the way it doesn't override the story, just merely providing it with a premise, and remaining, or rather, lurking in the background.

The story is slow at first, but picks up as it goes along. I had trouble with the middle part because I wasn't reading it continuously, but once I got going, the end was a breeze.

All in all, if you like your fantasy worlds to be vividly imagined, and your stories to have a fantastic yet grounded-in-real-life feel to it, then this book is good for you. If you liek a lot of fireballs and swords in your fantasy, go read Dragonlance lar.

Oh, and BTW, this book was voted one of the best SF/Fantasy books of 2003, which was why I picked it up in the first place. And the sequel to The Light Ages - The House of Storms has just been released too. Look out for that as well.

Where to get it:

When I bought it, I had to ORDER it from Kinokuniya, because not a single bookstore in KL had the book. But surprisingly, I saw it at Borders Times Square the other day.

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