“You wanna live forever?” the troopers cry in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as they go bug-slaying. And in British fantast Swainston’s big bug-filled debut, one person does want to live forever amid the Circle called The Immortals.
The Insect swarms from Paperlands keep invading Awia, striving to push down the Insect Wall at Lowespass, where King Dunlin Rachiswater has his fortress on land recovered from the Insects. Elsewhere, the Emperor lives with the Immortals in the Castle on the border between Awia and Plainsland. Retreating soldiers burn villages in Awia before the Insects can take them over, although the Insects build beautiful paper hives on razed villages and riddle the ground with tunnels in battles that have raged back and forth for two thousand years. Hero Mercurius Comet, called Jant, who has been 23 for centuries, is the bewinged flying Messenger and functions literally as the god Mercury for the Olympian Immortals, a group of 50 alien-esque yet humanlike beings who lead mankind against the Insects. Jant, though, is a junkie and ex-pusher, not to say murderer, rapist, liar, and, in his better moments, a master manipulator, or Jung’s Trickster—altogether a nasty guy who really keeps our interest with his destructive lusts. Then there’s 1500-year-old Lightning Saker, a general dressed like the sun, who tries to curb Jant’s habit. With the right drug fix, though, Jant can Shift onto the golden plane of Epsilon, an alternate world where he has built Sliverkey, a palace he gives to the doomed Dunlin when Dunlin dies. Then the Insects overrun Summerday and Lowespass and build a wall around the Fortress, sealing it in. Is all lost?
Archaeologist Swainston—and her lyrical debut—got terrific press in England. Deservedly so.