In this fantasy, a mage tries to save the same world he’d tormented as an evil wizard—part of his university studies—with help from the heroes who’d fought him.
With his reign as Dark Lord in subworld Trelari finally over, innerworlder Avery Stewart heads back to Mysterium University. The mage’s dissertation focuses on stabilizing an unbalanced subworld, maybe indefinitely to prevent its eventual destruction. Avery’s role as the bad guy was to create an imbalance, with his spell consequently guiding a select group of people who opposed him to “defuse the imbalance.” It was a grueling three months Mysterium-time, but Avery finishes 17 days early and plans to enjoy a relaxing night—neither logging his return nor checking in Trelari’s reality key at the storeroom. The evening begins well when he meets fellow student Vivian, who seems quite taken by his experiment. The next morning, however, Vivian’s gone, as is the key. With assistance from elfin roommate Eldrin Leightner, Avery once again enters Trelari, where Vivian’s become the Dark Queen. Slowly reassembling the Heroes of the Ages (who don’t recognize him without his Dark Lord makeup), Avery hopes his spell will lead them to vanquish Dark Queen Vivian. But if the shifting Trelari becomes a threat to Mysterium, the latter may feel it necessary to destroy the subworld. Heckel’s (The Pitchfork of Destiny, 2016, etc.) offbeat novel, like his previous work, is told with tongue firmly in cheek. Some of the humor is parody (Avery, et al., form the Tolkienian “Company of the Fellowship”), while parts are gleefully silly, like a town’s distinct but similarly named inns: Red Dragon, Dead Dragon, etc. Nonetheless, there’s unmistakable sincerity, especially once Avery starts seeing the Heroes as real people, rather than mere pawns to confirm his spell’s validity. The story likewise excels as fantasy, featuring battles with trolls and orcs and a smashing final act that revels in chaos. Heckel aptly subverts overexplanation of complicated notions (i.e., Mysterium and Trelari’s divergent passages of time) with narrator Avery’s inability to understand most of it himself. His response to someone telling him his magic makes no sense is: “Exactly.”
A diverting, heartfelt adventure that provides laughs in between earnest moments and spells.