Following a fabulous weekend at my local literary science-fiction convention known as MileHiCon, I find myself inspired by the energy and enthusiasm emanating from being in close quarters with so many fans of genre fiction. From space opera to steampunk, urban fantasy to epic, the conversations revolved around books and dodging recommendations worked about as well as using a toothpick as an umbrella during a torrential downpour.
One such recommendation sent my way? The Autumnlands Vol 1: Tooth and Claw. Part epic fantasy, part steampunk and, yes, even part urban fantasy, The Autumnlands is a fantastic, ambitious, and deeply rich read.
In The Autumnlands, 17 cities float among the clouds, suspended by magic. The Wizards, chosen of the gods, live and work here. The lesser ones live on the surface and serve those above. Magic creates both a political and class structure favoring those who have the power and know how to use it. But that magic is failing, and with it, their control over the world.
In the ancient legends, The Great Champion came and opened the gates of magic, flooding the world with power. No one is certain who this Champion was, or which tribe—Lion, Eagle, Owl, Greatwolf, Bear, Mole, the list goes on and on—the Champion came from. Each has their own version of the legend wherein The Great Champion is one of their own. But none are certain. How can they be, when all of it happened so long ago?
With magic fading, the Wizards run the risk of losing all they have built, their flying cities, political structure, and power. “Arrogant” barely qualifies as a descriptor for them. One such Wizard proposes a bold plan; use what’s left of their power to reach back through time, locate The Great Champion and have him, or her, do it all again—open the gates of magic and replenish the wells, so to speak.
All it will take? Combinatory magic. Sixteen powerful Wizards working together as a team, drawing on their magics, combining spells, enhancing them in ways never attempted before. Whether they succeed or not, they’ll make history.
Only problem? It’s forbidden.
But the 16 Wizards chosen decide to do it anyway—in secret. The results are disastrous….
Okay. This book is amazing on every level: story, art, worldbuilding, and mythology. The races are anthropomorphized animals designed and drawn by Benjamin Dewey in incredible and rich detail. The backgrounds and world, also amazingly detailed. The story by Kurt Busiek hooked me immediately and hit all the right notes to keep me turning the pages. With little vignettes in between chapters, detailed bits of the world and its past are revealed like breadcrumbs on a trail.
This book has strong, relatable, no-nonsense characters. Our main character is Dunstan, and through his eyes, we see the world first as it was, then as it changes to a place more harsh and violent. And believe me, it does become much more violent. A large contingent of Wizards fall to the surface and are forced to survive in a hostile environment for which they are ill prepared. This gives our Dunstan the opportunity to grow and change even as his world is changing.
The twist—and yes, there’s a twist—I admit I saw coming. You probably will, too, but that doesn’t detract from the story or make it lose any of its oomph.
Overall, a very satisfying read.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.