Sunday, July 1, 2012

Blightcross - C.A. Lang

A while ago I read the themed anthology Ride the Moon, edited by M.L.D. Curelas and published by Tyche Books. This publisher has just stated up, in fact I think Ride the Moon was their first release, and they let me have a look at their forthcoming titles. One novel that caught my attention was Blightcross by Canadian author C.A. Lang. Lang also had a story in Ride the Moon, titled Tidal Tantums. I didn't mention it in the review. Blightcross is a full length novel that could very well be linked to that story. The novel is pretty hard to categorize but I guess it might fit the dieselpunk label. The description promised a mix of magic and technology, quite different from more traditional fantasies, which is one of the things that attracted me to the novel. And indeed, traditional it is not.

Meet Capra Jorassian, fugitive solder and con artist. Her life has been a string of attempts to steal from the gullible rich while staying out of the hands of the agents sent to capture her and bring her to justice. During one of Capra's attempts to gain wealth, on such agent finds her. They have a history together and he is not going to let her slip away easily. After a wild pursuit Capra and her companion end up on the streets of Blightcross with just the clothes on their backs. They need work quickly. Fortunately a booming city with a burgeoning oil industry ought to provide plenty of opportunities. And indeed, they soon find a promising job. Stealing a work of art from Till Sevari, the mad dictator that rules the city. They quickly find out the job is a bit more complicated than a simple burglary. Soon events spiral out of control and Capra needs to find a way to stop the complete destruction of the city.

Lang has created a world where technology has advanced quite a bit. There are airships, vast oil refineries, internal combustion engines and all sorts of mechanized vehicles. In short, anything that could be found before the digital revolution appears to be present in some form. That is not to say it is a modern world in all aspects. Many of the tasks that are now being handled by machines were once accomplished by a form of magic. This magic still lingers in the world and although it appears to be obsolete and on the way out, it still fascinates the dictator of Blightcross. The is a contradiction in his actions to subdue and replace magic though is huge industrialization effort and his private research into its nature. In fact his actions are so erratic at times that he must be even more insane than the general population seems to believe he is. There is more than a bit of megalomania in him, as well as the belief that he is acting for the good of the city. He's one of the more interesting characters in the novel although the author leaves us with more than a few questions about his past.

The city of Blightcross is described as an industrial wasteland basically. There is heavy industry just about everywhere and the huge expansion of the city has attracted large numbers of migrant workers for lesser developed regions of the world. The city is rife with ethnic tensions and social conflict, working conditions are appalling and pollution is severely limiting the life expectancy of the workers. Three is clearly a parallel with the situation in the middle east present in this novel, where oil rich states employ vast numbers of migrant workers in their industries and the wealth that pours into these nations is distributed in dubious ways. I couldn't help but wonder if there is some commentary on Canada's own oil industry in there somewhere. In particular it's environmental track record.

There is quite a bit of worldbuilding in this novel but in the end, it is a very plot driven tale. Lang doesn't pause to explain the political situation or historical aspects to the reader in the middle of a fight or heated discussion. He keeps the pace high and distractions to a minimum. It does result in lots of unanswered questions about what is going on the wider world. Capra was involved in a brutal armed conflict, the details of which, apart from a number of traumatic memories from Capra, are pretty scarce. The geopolitical ambitions of Blightcross and its relationship with its neighbours (and one assumes customers) is also fairly underdeveloped. I appreciate the author wanting to keep the pace up in this novel but I think in this area the novel could have been better. Second world fantasies do need a coherent structure in which to set the story and in the case of Brightcross, some aspects remain so vague that the responses of the characters, apparently stemming from their ethnic background, don't always make sense to the reader.

That being said, there is a lot of action in this novel, from strange machines wreaking havoc to supernatural beings threatening the world and from frantic attempts to break into strange buildings to desperate pursuits through the city, this novel has is all. Capra is quit an active main character. Lang decided to focus on a female main character, an interesting choice for a male author in his debut novel. Carpa is a very independent and somewhat stubborn woman. Years on the battlefield have shown her she is physically quite capable of taking on any man and this convictions shows in her actions. One of the many elements of the novel that could have done with a bit more attention is the observation that some of the cultures Capra encounters are not as emancipated as she feels they should be. Apparently she has a history there too.

Blightcross is an action packed novel and quite impressive for a debut. While I felt it lacked a bit of detail in some areas, and failed to properly explore the depth that is obviously present in this secondary world, it is an entertaining tale. One that shows a powerful imagination on the authors part and opens plenty of opportunities to further explore the setting. There are no easy answers or black and white situations in this novel, Capra is as flawed as any of the people who surround her and the author isn't afraid of showing the reader just that. In short, it is a promising novel. I wonder if the author means to write more stories in this setting.

Book Details
Title: Blightcross
Author: C.A. Lang
Publisher: Tyche Books
Pages: 350
Year: 2012
Language: English
Format: e-book
ISBN: 978-0-9878248-3-7
First published: 2012

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