Tuesday, 8 September 2009

‘Prospero Lost’ – L. Jagi Lamplighter (Tor)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m actually a pretty big fan of urban fantasy but what I’m finding these days is that it has to promise a little bit more (than the guilty pleasure ‘bad ass female knocks hell out of vampires’ scenario that we all find ourselves going back to) if I’m going to pick it up. ‘Prospero Lost’ immediately caught my eye with it’s concept of how Prospero’s family might have taken shape, in the years following Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, as well as the fact that there were no vampires or werewolves to be seen at all. That’s right, an urban fantasy without vampires or werewolves... If that wasn’t enough, the blurb also promised an interesting tale.
As it turned out, ‘Prospero Lost’ was a bit of a slog to get through but proved to be well worth the effort. This book is the first of a series (a trilogy I think, might be wrong though...) and I will make sure that I’m there to see just what happens next.

More than four hundred years after the events of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, Prospero’s family now control a worldwide corporation (Prospero Inc) that uses magic to keep the supernatural world in check and mankind free of ‘natural’ disasters. With her father increasingly absent from daily affairs, Miranda heads up the business but is about to find that Prospero isn’t just absent; he has disappeared completely. With only a cryptic message as a clue (‘Beware of the Three Shadowed Ones’), Miranda must track her father down as well as attempting to reunite her warring family. Miranda has Mab (a wind spirit masquerading as a hard boiled detective) and her insane brother Mephisto to help her but this may not be enough when ranged against the forces who would steal her family’s magic...

‘Prospero Lost’ opens Lamplighter’s series and sets the scene for events to come. Unlike some authors, who go for self contained stories that form the wider arc of a series, Lamplighter leaves pretty much everything raised in ‘Prospero Lost’ as a matter for resolution in later books. This approach works well in terms of setting scene and introducing characters, on the whole, and the leaves the reader with a promise of exciting times to come. Like I said, I’ll certainly be back to see where the story takes me.

It’s not all good though. A number of questions are raised about Miranda’s character, and things that she does, with the assumption that these will be answered in future books. The fact is though, we don’t get these answers now and what we are left with is perhaps one of the single most annoying characters that I’ve ever seen a book hang its plot on. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so single minded and selfish, fully prepared to sacrifice friends and relatives to blind faith in her father. It’s suggested that there may be reasons for this (which does give the reader something to chew on) but what we are left with is a character that it’s very hard to get behind and reading the ‘Miranda intensive’ parts can sometimes be more of a chore than a pleasure. I also wasn’t too sure about Lamplighter’s use of the ‘quest’ archetype as a means of getting things moving. Whilst the plot may have demanded this approach, the whole notion of ‘going to point A, finding what’s needed then going to point B (and so on)’ got repetitive and altered the pace of the story in a way that wasn’t to its benefit. The plot needed to flow and what we got instead was it becoming stuck in a groove...

To be fair, Lamplighter makes up for this with a supporting cast that is well worth getting to know. Mab’s ‘Marlowesque’ qualities stand out as a refreshing contrast to Prospero Inc’s ‘Faerie’ tone and he raises interesting questions about the servitude of the Prospero Family’s spirit retainers in modern day America. I’d like to see where this particular theme ends up.
Mephisto is also a character well worth turning the pages to read more of. Here’s a guy that is totally off his head and Lamplighter is not afraid to have him totally derail the plot and send it off in unexpected directions. This makes for some very entertaining moments and there are also hints that we will learn a lot more about Mephisto in the future.

Where Lamplighter really excels though is in her descriptions of a world bubbling with supernatural activity and the workings of Prospero Inc as it bids to stop this activity bleeding over into every day life. When a ‘priority account’ is buying off Salamanders so that a volcano doesn’t erupt then you just know that there is fun to be had with a book. Lamplighter fills the book with detail like this and even manages to get Father Christmas to make an appearance as well in such a way that it doesn’t jar at all.

‘Prospero Lost’ isn’t without its faults but what it does do is done very well indeed. I’m looking forward to returning to this world when ‘Prospero in Hell’ is published next year.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

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