Ever since I first read Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters and then Five Hundred Kingdoms series, I’ve been fascinated by fractured fairy tales. Only recently, with Kait Nolan’s Red did I even discover another author noodling on that theme. So when Nigel Osner requested that I review his fantasy novel, I had no idea this was the sort of treat I was letting myself in for.
Osner writes a very engaging, modern take on Rumpelstiltskin’s tale set in England with a not-so-likeable set of characters, who are nonetheless intriguing and engaging in their quest for a greater context for their lives.
Henry Prince has just finished his very practical law degree and is doing his best to become a staid and stodgy legal eagle, leaving behind some of his wilder childhood fantasies with the vaguely discontented idea that it’s all probably for the best. The friend of his childhood who hasn’t given up on the fantasy that there is in fact a world in which magic flourishes, though, manages to intrigue and involve Henry enough in a new website that Henry himself ends up being sucked into that alternate reality.
While there Henry comes face to face with his own character deficiencies not only through improbable circumstances but also through silly conversations:
“You’re very uncertain for a hero,” said Aurelia.
“It doesn’t do to be too brash.”
“No, but I always imagined heroes would be more self assured.”
“Well, you can’t believe all you read in books.”
“I can’t read,” said Aurelia.
“Oh,” said Henry. “I’ll teach you.”
As is generally the case with archetypal journeys, he is forced to face the consequences of his choices and learn how to see the reality of his own story to help him grow up in truth.
In this story, Osner ponders some of the same things as Michael Ende in his “Neverending Story”: what happens when dreams, or the extremes of experience are “evened out”? In this case that is the opening that allows worlds to collide with some disastrous consequences; but there is still the open question of whether that infusion of magic might not be necessary on some level in an overly didactic world that had all but snuffed the best qualities in our protagonist.
Osner’s story does end rather abruptly, in a clear bid for readers to continue on to the sequel, and the editing starts to fall apart in the second half of the story, but by this time I’m hooked enough to want to know what has become of our newly discovered hero.
For anyone who enjoys the mingling of the magical and mundane, here’s a fractured fairy tale that veers off in a direction I hadn’t expected and took me on a thoroughly enjoyable ride. I can absolutely recommend this to anyone who likes to revisit old stories through new lenses for what those new reflections tell us about our own options and choices.