Ian R. MacLeod, . . Ace, $24.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-441-01280-0

In MacLeod's brilliant The Light Ages (2003), the discovery of a substance called aether revolutionized technology, ushering in a Victorian age radically different from our own. Now, a century later, the Age of Light has come to an end in this more tightly plotted sequel. Alice Meynell, Greatgrandmistress of the Guild of Telegraphers, is willing to commit murder to establish her own power and assure the future of her tubercular son, Ralph. To save his life, she makes a deal with the Chosen, magical beings so warped by aether that they can no longer live in human society. As Ralph's health improves, however, he falls in love with Marion Price, a servant girl who eventually bears his child. Alice, acting in what she believes is Ralph's best interests, forces them to separate, secretly sending the baby to live with the Chosen. Years pass, civil war breaks out, and Alice, Ralph and Marion pursue their varied destinies. Full of detailed descriptions of landscapes and complex human feelings, this rich, leisurely novel bears some similarities to the more frenetic fiction of China Miéville, though the author's affinity to A.S. Byatt is even stronger. This is a major work by a master writing at the top of his form. Agent, Susan Protter. (May 3)