cover image Mage Against the Machine

Mage Against the Machine

Shaun Barger. Saga, $25.99 (512p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0304-8

Barger’s debut novel is a valiant but doomed attempt at blending urban fantasy and postapocalyptic, post-singularity science fiction. The fantasy story line is led by Nikolai Strauss, a young wizard who’s spent all his life behind the Veils that conceal wizard communities. He’s been told that all nonmagical humans perished in a nuclear holocaust years ago, but the humans survived and now live under the deadly rule of the artificial intelligences known as Synths, and cybernetically-enhanced former ballerina Jemma Burton is one of the Runners who support the underground human resistance. Nikolai and Jemma’s stories are set to collide, but Barger takes a frustratingly long time to get there. Nikolai is a petulant protagonist whose heroism rarely feels fully earned, and Jemma is a so-called strong female character whose ostensible strength and independence are secondary to Nikolai’s eventual need to rescue her. Barger strives for something original, but his writing and story are heavily reliant on and weakened by overfamiliar tropes and clichés. (Oct.)