Review: A Vanishing Glow

cover-a vanishing glowTitle: A Vanishing Glow
Author: Alexis Radcliff
Series: Mystech Arcanum Vol. I & II
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy
Length: Novel
Available: Now


A VANISHING GLOW is the exciting opening to THE MYSTECH ARCANUM series, a deep and thrilling blend of steampunk and flintlock fantasy with mature themes.

It is an Age of Revolution, an Age of Industrialism. Constructs, living men who are as much brass and steel as they are flesh, man the factories and wage the wars of a ruling elite who gorge themselves on the fruits of the common man’s labor. Mystech, a brilliant fusion of magic and machine, gives rise to a new class of privileged inventors and merchants even as the country festers with wounds from decades of internal strife.

Only one man holds the promise of a brighter future: Nole Ryon, the crown prince. When his childhood friend Jason Tern answers his call for aid, the two of them set out to fight for the change their country needs in order to survive, even as shadowy foes frustrate their efforts. But soon, Jason and Nole’s idealistic mission of hope becomes a furious manhunt for a political murderer as the nation balances on the precipice of a country-wide civil war. Can they cut through the threads of intrigue to discover their true enemy before everything is lost?

Sweeping from the ancient cities at the heart of the nation to the dusty edges of the war-torn frontier, A Vanishing Glow tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and assassins, friends and lovers, who come together in a time of epic struggle. Here a brave officer risks everything to win back his estranged father’s respect; a brilliant young engineer attempts to atone for her sins; a war-weary commander tries to pick up the pieces of the life he lost; and a man touched by the gods struggles to prepare a nation for the coming of an ancient evil which only he can see. In the dying light of a once-prosperous society, amid twisting plots, suffering and betrayal, lost love and shattered dreams, all must fight for what they hold dear. Who will taste the fruits of victory and who will lie bloodied on the ground in the light of a vanishing glow?

Source: Review copy from the author

If you’re looking for a fantasy read set within a beautifully detailed world, with political intrigue, possible rebellions and steampunk elements, then you will probably enjoy this. The world has Epic written all over it, with a Federation formed out of five countries still deeply divided between the agricultural East and industrialised West. The High Sovereign leadership of the Federation is on the brink of being transfered from an old man to his highly idealistic son and there’s talk of rebellion flaring. Amidst this political manoeuverings is woven the idea of Mystech, mechanical things powered by god-given numen. Everything from lights to the mechanical limbs of the Constructs – humans with mechanical appendages from eyes to arms, to whole body transformations.

In the middle of all this is Jason, our erstwhile hero. After making a name for himself as a successful soldier in border campaigns, he’s been called to the capital by his best friend, Nole, heir to the High Sovereign and about to assume his father’s position. This is because Nole wants to transfer his old role of Lord Regent of their home country Fen to Jason. But however astute he was on a battlefield, Jason is politically naive, the awareness of which plagues him with self-doubts.

Jason is a likeable hero, whose idealistic streak is mostly tempered by caution, while his sense of honour and desperate need to please those he cares for can lead him to make foolish decisions. I frequently wanted to shout at him to stop being so obtuse because the answer to so many of his problems was right in front of his nose! He’s quite frustrating because from start to finish he doesn’t actually develop too well. He remains naive and foolish throughout the majority of the book – however, I have hopes for changes in any future books, given the way this one ends.

Away from Jason and his political troubles in the capital city, the story takes occasional breaks to visit an inventive young sapper engineer, Nilya. She has ambitions and secrets, a troublesome past and a habit of not asking questions when she really should. Because she’s been brought up in the West and believes implicitly in the superiority of tech over the more rural East. Unlike Jason she does undergo a fair amount of development and change over the course of the book. However, her story is fairly slow going and mostly reads as an introduction to big things to come for her. I also found the revelations from her past to be rather disappointing, since it mostly portrays her as a bit of a pouting brat who runs too easily from her troubles.

The plot itself is a slow dance that introduces the world, sets up the major political players and delights in sharp shocks – some more expected than others and many of them violent. I have to admit the politics never grew as intricate as I might have liked, but it did prevent too much confusion, even if I did find some of the major mysteries Jason’s attempting to uncover pretty obvious from early on. A lot of this is because of Jason and his unwillingness to engage in council politics, instead preferring to run around the city, getting himself in trouble. He does meet a few interesting characters along the way, though, which helped to keep things interesting.

Overall I really enjoyed this. It’s epic without being overwhelming and I found it a surprisingly easy read. The setting has a nice Victoriana gloss (guns, trains, wacky inventors) and the Federation adds a good sense of history. I would have liked to have known more about the Gods themselves and perhaps how life was in the West before the unification and land act (and likewise life for the Easterners before the West started building factories everywhere). There’s also a distinct sense throughout that everything is only just beginning and there’s plenty more to come – which is exciting. After this solid and intriguing start I very much look forward to seeing where the story turns next.

A Vanishing Glow is Out Now!
Visit Alexis Radcliff for more details.


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