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Light Stealer

James Barclay

PS Publishing

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 1-902-880-62-5

Publication Date: 02-15-2003

89 Pages; $40.00

Date Reviewed: 03-31-03  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2003



Fantasy, Science Fiction

04-29-02, 05-02-02, 01-27-03, 03-26-03, 08-30-03

Action-packed fantasy is not the place one would expect to find what Joe R. Lansdale so cleverly called 'big thinks'. Politically relevant pondering on the effects of scientific research and war, complex networks of advanced weaponry, and abstruse, mathematically-based calculations are not the usual purview of what we think of as fantasy fiction. James Barclay is clearly working to change that, and his latest novella, 'Light Stealer' is a gripping, thrilling and thought-provoking tale of technology, politics and power. He revels in one of the corollaries of Clarke's Law; in Barclay's work, a sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

'Light Stealer' is set long before Barclay's other novels of Balaia. The protagonist is Septern, a master mage who is intellectually brilliant but politically childish. When he discovers a powerful new spell that in theory could bring an end to all creation, he's anxious to announce his discovery and receive the adulation he deserves. He's working in an isolated mansion with four interns, all powerful magicians in their own right. In spite of the advice given to him by his own students, he decides to go an announce his discovery to the other colleges of magic, even though there is currently a war between well, everybody -- the colleges and the savage, Wytch-Lord led Wesmen.

Barclay's prose crackles, and his scenes might as well have been set with a 70mm Dolby-sound big screen theater. Septern's discovery and his unwillingness to think about the consequences of a Doomsday weapon are strikingly resonant to those of us in the post-atomic era. Once Septern takes his leave of the interns and the mansion, the action cranks quickly into high gear. We're given a very organized magic that seems more technological than most machinery described in science fiction, and a breechcloth and fire-spells version of 'Assault on Precinct 13'. Barclay pulls some stunning imagery out this situation and resolves it nicely enough with a twist. Clearly, there is room for more adventures of Septern, and I can't wait for PS Publishing to bring them out. 'Light Stealer' also boasts a gorgeous Edward Millar cover painting, which for some might be worth the price of admission. 'Light Stealer' is alas, a one-day reading experience. Pick a nice day before you open the book.