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Unexpected magic

Astrid Lethewood is the quiet person who comes to the party late, only to stand in a corner with a drink in her hand, barely touched. That small smile — the one that tilts the corner of her mouth — might mean any number of things, but it is most likely to be pleasure. Astrid is an unassuming young woman, who asks of life only what she believes everyone should have, if they want: love, a family, a garden in which to grow things. Metaphorically, she is the unremarkable stone in the stream of life; while the flow imperceptibly wears her down, in the process she becomes stronger … rounded and difficult to grasp … only dangerous if you try to step on her.

She is one of the most genuine fictional heroines I have ever encountered.

“You’re going to fall in love today.” 

Published in 2009,  Indigo Springs is the debut novel of my good friend, Alyx Dellamonica.  It won the  Sunburst Award (2010)  for excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic, and was followed by its sequel, Blue Magic in April 2012. Both books are published by  Tor.

I bought a copy of Indigo Springs shortly after it was released, and loved it, but my own life intruded like a pair of blinkers, allowing me little time to really think about it — and this book does require you to pay attention.

Then, I happened to be in Vancouver for a year and — for once — I was in the right place at the right time, able to attend the local launch of Blue Magic. I went home, read the book — and then I read it again. I put it down and thought, “Oh. Wow.” When we returned to the boat, I pulled Indigo Springs off the bookshelf and re-read both novels, just as they should be, back-to-back.

There are benefits to coming late to a party. In my case, it is perspective: the sheer pleasure in being able to explore the elegant arc of Astrid Lethewood’s story from beginning to … somewhere else.

“…I’m standing at the heart of an alchemical apocalypse.”

Magic is real. It is a molecule that when concentrated, forms liquid power — Vitagua. There are those who can use this power safely, but contamination of the uninitiated will change that person in the most unexpected ways — prescience, lunacy, horns and hooves, roots and leaves. It’s magic, after all.

Those gifted individuals — the chanters — who can safely disseminate the magic, have been hunted to near-extinction by an enemy who has had a lot of practice in burning witches. They are a secret order, fanatical and committed to controlling the magic, because objects of power should never be in the hands of ordinary people, and most certainly, not for free. The Fyremen have been murdering the chanters, stealing their magical objects, destroying the spirit wells and damming the whole, messy blue goo up in the “unreal” for a very long time.

Until now. Magic is leaking back into the world, and unbeknownst to his family, Astrid’s father — long considered the town ne’er do well — was a chanter. It is only after his murder that Astrid inherits his house and the secret well of magic that it has long hidden. Her fraught journey of discovery begins with the return of repressed childhood memories; her best friend and step-brother Jacks Glade, and the girl who stole her teenage heart with a kiss and then promptly left Astrid and her small town behind, Sahara Knax.

It is safe to say that Astrid does not love wisely, but then, really, who does?

By the time Indigo Spring starts, Astrid’s Vitagua-fuelled prescience has unhooked her from the normal stream of time — past and future have become confused.  Her anchor is a man called Will Forest,  an interrogator working for the power establishment, but first she must wait for him to come into her life, and then she must make him understand. Astrid has already lived the events that she recounts for Will, which explains the unusual narrative flow that bends backwards and forwards in time, but despite this shifting point of view, there is a definite sense of urgency that increases as the timelines draw together.

“Morning arrived in Indigo Springs, but it did not bring the dawn.”

Blue Magic follows seamlessly from where Indigo Springs leaves off.  The crumbling powerbase still pretends that they’re in control, while the flow of Vitagua threatens to flood the real — to catastrophic effect. This is the apocalypse that Astrid Lethewood is trying to redirect. There is no chance of stopping it now, but she and her small group of supporters know that their only hope for saving the world is to channel the power as harmlessly as possible.

But the pressure is building and there are those long trapped in the unreal who see chaos as an opportunity.

The dam is about to burst and the ties that bind us all to our world, to what we believe to be our true selves,  are unwinding. Ordinary people cannot escape the consequences of great power — whether corruption or catalyst, magic will change the world in ways unimaginable.

The arc of the story between Indigo Springs and Blue Magic is one of great courage and self-realization. It encompasses hurt, havoc and hatred as much as it does joy, discovery and transformation. Across both books, Astrid’s journey alongside that of her unlikely allies and deadly enemies, is that of  a young woman forced to accept that no-one else can do what she must.

Contamination: catastrophe … or catalyst?

Oh, and the covers? To die for. While both novels are available electronically … and I’m obviously a proponent of bits’n bytes … I have to say, these books look beautiful side-by-side; a joy to have and to hold.

Enough squee …

Indigo Springs and Blue Magic have been labelled “eco-fantasy”. Nobody seems to be quite sure what that means — just yet — so it is safe to say that together, these two books are breaking new ground in the genre-sense. Not being one for pidgeon-holing, I suggest that Astrid Lethewood’s story has a far greater humanitarian sweep than one might first assume, particularly if you tend to take marketing labels as choice delimiters. My suggestion? Don’t.

A.M. Dellamonica writes snappy, spare prose.  If you don’t “get it”, she’s not going to wait around for you, so, concentrate and hurry up — her story arc has a world to reshape,  mysteries to unveil, hatred and fear to confront, love betrayed and discovered, myths reborn and cultural paradigms to bury, and throughout it all, characters who will change your mind about what it really means to be human. Change is inevitable and time is running out…

Love: it can grow on you.

My energetic and hard working friend has also been kind enough to write an accompanying novella, Wild Things, which is available for free at Tor.com. It has one of the loveliest, and most unusual, beginnings I’ve ever read:

My swamp man wasn’t what you’d call a sexy beast, though I found his skin strangely beautiful. It was birch bark: tender, onion-thin, chalk white in color, with hints of almond and apricot. He was easily bruised, attracted lichens, and when he got too dry, he peeled.

Instead of hair, he grew whisper-thin stems. Every morning we made a ritual of shaving his scalp, breaking those new-grown shoots. Once when time got away from us and they were left to grow a couple days, he broke out in catkins, a crown of fuzzy, pollen-laden locks of gold.

If you think that there is not enough magic in the world, but you like your fantasy to come with sharp edges and enough intelligence to make you believe in it … then these stories are right for you. Enjoy.

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