Several hundred years ago a magical substance known as aether was discovered in England, and it changed the world in this beautifully written, complex fantasy novel, British author MacLeod's second (after the underrated The Great Wheel). Kings were overthrown. Aether-based industries flourished. Now, near the end of the Third Age of Industry (roughly the equivalent of our Victorian Age), great Guilds run the nation. Powerful captains of industry live like nobility, while the impoverished masses risk their lives mining, refining and working with the dangerous substance that supports the economy. Cracks are beginning to show in society, however. The poor are getting poorer. Quality workmanship is hard to find. Those who come into too much contact with aether often mutate into sometimes monstrous creatures called changelings. Worse still, there are dark rumors that the aether may be running out. The narrator, Robert Borrows, who rises from near-poverty as the son of a humble guildsman, falls in love with a changeling, participates in the revolution that brings the Third Age to its end and winds up among the masters of the new world that rises out of its ruins. With its strong character development and gritty, alternate London, this book won't attract fans of Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind, but should hold great appeal to readers who love the more sophisticated fantasy of Michael Swanwick, John Crowley or even China Miéville. (May 6)
Forecast:The jacket art—Thames-side London overshadowed by machinery—nicely captures the novel's grim, understated feel, but it's unlikely to grab the attention of the 12-year-olds of all ages who tend to thumb through the SF and fantasy bookstore shelves lookingfor babes and broadswords. MacLeod's novella
The Summer Isles won a World Fantasy Award.