Blue Magic by Alyx Dellamonica is the sequel to Indigo Springs, winner of the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. It is the story of how lives are changed in the wake of ecological disaster—in this story, magical contamination—a story of loss and renewal, and a story filled with both internal and external conflicts.
I should begin this review by stating two things. One: I have not read the first book in this two-novel series. Two: I have a very difficult time reading fantasy because I find it just too fantastical. I have a huge problem when it comes to suspension of disbelief. As a result, when reading fantasy, I rarely make it to the third chapter before I walk away from the book.
Then why did I agree to review this book? Again, two reasons. One: The author is Canadian and, as a person, I find Alyx intriguing. Two: The source of the magic and resulting contamination come from a physical substance and are measurable. Knowing that the source comes from a liquid, instead of from a person’s being, made it easier for me to accept.
Without the benefit of reading the first novel and having issues with fantasy, in the end, I was satisfied. Believe it or not, that is a very good thing.
Alyx did a wonderful job weaving the back-story of Indigo Springs into Blue Magic. This can be a tricky task. A writer needs to include enough information for readers who are jumping into this world so that they are not lost. This needs to be balanced against readers who know the full story and may become bored or frustrated with too much repetition. I was given just enough information to understand the enormity of the magical disaster, why it has caused the conflict between the magic and non-magic worlds, and why this disaster has caused so much inner and interpersonal turmoil. This back-story is woven in such a way as to serve as a refresher to those who have read Indigo Springs, without being repetitive in nature.
A lot happens in Blue Magic. It is a whirlwind tale, jumping from location to location, weaving three different, yet interconnected, plot lines. Jumping from the military base, to Indigo Springs, to the unreal, with a brief jump here and there into other locations around the globe, I found myself having to take a bit of a break every three or six chapters, giving my brain a chance to really digest how all of these separate events were shaping the bigger picture. At times, the change in location within a chapter is a little bit disorientating. However, this is not a fault of the writing, but rather a lack of break on the page when jumping to another location or forward in time.
I love explosions, carnage, destruction, action and a good blood-letting. The story certainly has its fair share of all those things, but when compared to the story and world-building, I wanted more even though I was satisfied. I can’t help but to wish the physical altercations were written differently. Alyx spends a lot of time preparing the reader for the many moments of battle. When these confrontations finally happen, they are over with the blink of an eye. With the exception of the final confrontation between Astrid Lethewood and Sahara Knax, they failed to get my heart racing.
Thankfully, the lack of heart-racing action is made up for by the interpersonal stories. Surprisingly, I was extremely fascinated by the people in the story and their interpersonal relationships. I need one of two things in a story: loads of explosions and action or a good human story. If the story has both, even better. By human story, I mean a story that is reflective of humanity and the struggles of the world in which we live, not interpersonal stories. The only time interpersonal stories work for me is when they are built up over an extended series. As an example, it wasn’t until the fifth Harry Potter book that I truly became connected to the characters as individuals and was emotionally affected by the things that happened to them individually, as opposed to in the grand scheme of the story. This is where the magic of Blue Magic happens for me. Somehow, without reading the previous novel, Alyx managed to give me just enough where I was very sympathetic to the characters, even if I was not empathetic, with the exception of Ev Lethewood.
After reading Blue Magic, I so want to go back and read Indigo Springs. For the normal reader, Alyx gives enough substance and back-story to all the characters that you will truly care for them and find the interpersonal conflicts and romances quite believable. Then there are people like me who have a very difficult time swallowing romance. For me, nothing ruins a good story faster than inserting love story. The exception to this is if the romance has taken years to develop. Those that appear to happen in a vacuum—which, to my mind, is any romance where the people haven’t known each other for at least one year, and haven’t had significant and meaningful interactions within that year, plus there needs to be some practical element to the relationship—immediately destroy any story for me.
Because of my non-typical views of romance, there were a few instances while I was reading Blue Magic that were rather difficult. There are a number of romances in the story. The only reason I was able to tolerate them is because Alyx made sure to give enough back-story that I knew they did not just happen in a vacuum, or are there only to fulfil prophecy. I knew the characters of Astrid Lethewood and Will Forest have a very difficult history; one filled with a lot of pain. I so wanted to love their relationship. I so wanted to celebrate the fact they were able to overcome a lot of pain caused by the other person, getting to a place where they are able to build a future together. For me, it did not happen. However, Alyx gets huge props from me in this area because she presented that relationship, as well as the other romances, in such a fashion that I know, had I read the first novel, I would be wanting them to succeed. I’m not sure I can properly articulate just how much I appreciated that in Alyx’s writing.
As for all of the non-romantic interpersonal stories, I found myself having a great deal of sympathy for the characters. There is so much inner conflict in this story. The majority of characters are battling some type of inner-demon. All of these internal conflicts and the resulting external action have an effect, in some instances they are major consequences, on the lives of the other players and the world at large. I want to give examples, but I am afraid they would spoil the story. I will say that there isn’t a single gratuitous relationship, irregardless of their nature. Both the romantic and non-romantic relationships serve the plot, while serving as a device for the reader to connect, on some level, with the character.
I would be remiss if I did not speak about the rainbow of gender identities and sexual preferences presented in Blue Magic. Astrid is bisexual. Will appears to be straight and is perfectly comfortable with Astrid’s bisexuality. The marshal, Juanita, is a lesbian. Astrid’s mom is now her pop. It is the internal struggles of transgender Ev Lethewood that compelled me the most. I have never been more thankful for a character than I am for the character of Ev Lethewood. Without going into extreme detail, Alyx did a superb job of illustrating what it like to be a trans man. It is always a wonderful thing when the LGBTQ community is represented in literature in a matter-of-fact fashion, instead of salaciously.
Blue Magic also deals with issues of ethics and morality, what losses and deaths are acceptable for the greater good, good versus evil, and so much more. I found the Fyremen to be most delicious characters, hunting down and burning witches, willing to destroy an entire town in order to eradicate the smallest of infestations, in pursuit of their idea of good. The Roused are another set of interesting characters, impatient to be freed from the unreal; some willing to destroy all of humanity just so they can be free of their captivity.
There is so much more to be said about Blue Magic. It is a complex story, filled with entire worlds of characters, where even the simplest event changes every thing.
Alyx Dellamonica’s writing is beautiful and eloquent. The world in Blue Magic is a complex one. It would have been extremely easy leave loose ends or wander off in directions that had no bearing on the big picture. Despite a couple situations where a reader may get lost in the whirlwind of events, the story is tightly woven and neatly finished. Any negatives I felt about the story have to do with what I bring as an individual to the story and my own preferences. They have nothing to do with Alyx’s writing ability. In fact, I am in awe of Alyx’s ability to paint such a vivid and palatable world and story; a world where I found the aftermath of the Vitagua spill believable, even if I had to talk my brain into accepting Vitagua. But if I can get over Red Matter… Vitagua was a lot easier to accept as something that is a thing.
It is because of Alyx’s ability to move an existing story forward, while interweaving the pre-existing story, that my brain was able to get over itself and accept even the romantic relationships and fantastical events, anchored with a good dose of realism and even mention of science. A very satisfying read, indeed.
Don’t forget: You can read Alyx’s guest post, A Few Of My Favorite Squees, here. Alyx Dellamonica (@AlyxDellamonia) will be joining me on the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show at The Look 24/7 (@TheLook247) on Friday, April 27, 2012 at 7 pm PT/ 10 pm ET/ 3 am (Saturday) GMT, to discuss her latest novel, Blue Magic, LGBT stuff, and more.
Also, tomorrow I’ll be giving away two copies of Blue Magic, courtesy of Tor.
A copy of this book was provided for the purpose of this review.
About Blue Magic
This powerful sequel starts in the small town in Oregon where Astrid Lethewood discovered an underground river of blue liquid—Vitagua—that is pure magic. Everything it touches is changed. The secret is out—and the world will never be the same. Astrid’s best friend, Sahara, has been corrupted by the blue magic, and now leads a cult that seeks to rule the world. Astrid, on the other hand, tries to heal the world.
Conflicting ambitions, star-crossed lovers, and those who fear and hate magic combine in a terrible conflagration, pitting friend against friend, magic against magic, and the power of nations against a small band of zealots, with the fate of the world at stake. Blue Magic is a powerful story of private lives changed by earthshaking events that will ensnare readers in its poignant tale of a world touched by magic and plagued by its consequences.
About Alyx Dellamonica
You may know Alyx Dellamonica already from her fabulous “Buffy Rewatch” series on Tor.com, but here are some more fun facts:
Alyx lives in Vancouver, Canada, where she sings in a community choir and takes thousands of digital photographs. In 2003, soon after finishing her first novel, Indigo Springs, the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled in favor of legalized same-sex marriage. A month later, she achieved a lifelong dream by marrying her long-term partner, writer and wine critic Kelly Robson, at one of their favorite places, the UBC Botanical Gardens.