Garth Nix, Angel Mage (Katherine Tegen Books 978-0-06-268322-9, $19.99, 534pp, hc) October 2019. Cover by Victo Ngai.
Nix pays homage to Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers in this young-adult fantasy novel, set in a world where magic is worked using icons that draw on the power of angels. A young woman named Liliath wakes 137 years after the Doom of Ystara, having spent the time entombed, yet is somehow still young and beautiful – and obsessed with her love for the angel Palleniel. She was somehow involved in Ystara’s downfall and the strange disease that struck its people, and it’s clear that she will do anything to be reunited with her love. Her gradually revealed plot focuses on four young people, the heroes of the tale, all come to the great city of Lutace to study or make their fortunes: medical student Simeon MacNeal, would-be Musketeer Agnez Descaray, Cardinal’s clerk Henri Dupallidin, and student icon-maker Dorotea Imsel – an entertaining quartet who take to each other on sight, bickering and bantering through their adventures. In this world, women seem to dominate, often with names and roles familiar from males in Dumas’s works: the Cardinal, Rochefort, and the head of the Queen’s Musketeers, Captain-General Dartagnan, are all female, and gay romance is quite accepted. Liliath makes an interestingly terrifying villain, an obsessive teen with great power, no conscience, and a certain lack of experience that makes her even more dangerous, as her schemes threaten to spin out of control. It all adds up to grand adventure with some tongue-in-cheek attitude and a nice bit of swashbuckling swagger.
Angel Mage, Garth Nix; Kristin Atherton, narrator (Listening Library 978-0-9310444-6, $27.50, digital download, 15 hr., unabridged) October 2019.
As many fantasy authors have before him, Garth Nix takes inspiration from that beloved swashbuckling epic, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, blending in gender equality and a magical system in which mages trade part of their lives away in exchange for summoning and controlling angels via painted icons. Liliath, an unusually powerful mage, intends to gain an unusually close bond with Palleniel, the Archangel protecting Ystara. The magic goes horribly awry, inflicting a terrible plague on the people of Ystara that kills most and turns the survivors into murderous monsters. Liliath escapes to the neighboring nation of Sarance and puts herself into a magical trance, awaiting an opportunity to try again. Emerging over a century later, Liliath gathers the remnants of the now-despised Ystaran people and selfishly exploits them in her schemes, which center on four young people with a mysterious bond: a mathematically gifted clerk, a talented doctor, a bold musketeer cadet, and a quirky icon painter whose magical talents resemble Liliath’s own. Will these four discover the truth about Liliath before it is too late?
Given the heavy influence of Dumas on the story, the audiobook producers could have chosen a narrator who would speak in French-accented English; instead they chose a narrator with a received English accent, which Americans usually associate with chivalry and Europe, anyway. Atherton rises to the challenge, offering decent pronunciations of the French-sounding names, plausible-sounding male and female characters, and a wonderfully breathless sex scene.
Somewhat predictable, and not quite up to Nix’s Old Kingdom series, but a pleasant diversion for Musketeers fans, particularly those who enjoyed Steven Brust’s Khaavren novels. (Personally, my favorite Dumas is The Count of Monte Cristo. Not sure what that says about me.)
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 January 2020 issue of Locus.
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