David Drake, The Spark (Baen 978-1-4814-8276-9, $25.00, 337pp, hc) November 2017. Cover by Todd Lockwood.
A young man seeks to become a Champion in this unusual novel mixing Arthuriana with an SF premise, but a definite fantasy feel. This universe appears to be a far future where shattered worlds are joined by a strange Road, the remnants, it seems, of an ancient empire with a degree of civilization and technology long lost. A leader, Jon, seeks to rebuild the empire, and replace constant fighting and wars with a rule of law centered on trial by combat, with a Company of Champions to uphold the law. Young Pal is from remote, rural Beune, but he’s a rare Maker, one of those able to sense Ancient devices with their minds, to find and fix, or even adapt them. Pal has built himself a weapon out of a mining rock drill and a shield from an umbrella, and with his dog to help find the way has traveled the road to Jon’s capital of Dun Add to join the Champions. Instead, he finds there’s too much he doesn’t know, and his weapons aren’t ideal for combat against seasoned fighters. He does manage to make friends with the powerful Maker Guntram, Jon’s old mentor, and get help from a kind lady-in-waiting, but he still ends up leaving in humiliation. With a little extra help from Guntram, though, he spends much of his time back in Beune working on his Maker abilities and learning to fight, so when a lady in distress on a damaged boat (spaceship) turns up, he’s ready to help her on a real heroic quest. The plot seems a bit contrived at times, but the mix of high technology (so advanced it might as well be magic) and Arthurian themes works beautifully against the tantalizingly unexplained past.
Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.
This review and more like it in the November 2017 issue of Locus.