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James Lovegrove

Gollancz / Orion Books

UK Trade Paperback


Publication date 23-09-04

453 pages; £10.99

Date Reviewed: 25-11-04

Reviewed by: Stephanie Cage © 2004



Fantasy, Science Fiction, General Fiction

08-22-02, 12-13-02, 05-23-03

The cover of James Lovegrove's latest novel gives a good preview of things to come. The picture promises storms and turbulence in abundance; the blurb tempts the reader with a complex multi-strand plot and hints of a world very different from our own; and the excerpt from a review in Locus attests to the quality of Lovegrove's writing: "beguiling, unpredictable, rich prose."

It's a lot for the book to live up to but Lovegrove succeeds resoundingly. The idea of a man who knows in advance the time and manner of his death but chooses to do nothing to prevent it is a fascinating introduction to the complicated world of the Earth, Air, Fire and Water inclined races, with their varied talents. Elder Ayn and his scribe Khollo are Air inclined, which means they are primarily intellectuals. Elder Ayn is a previsionary - his talent is his ability to foresee his future, including the moment of his death - while Khollo's talent relates to the past. He is an Enshriner, with perfect recall of any event he has witnessed or participated in.

Lovegrove moves easily back and forth between Khollo's account of their travels and the very different stories of Gregory and Yashu. Gregory is a tough, pragmatic misfit in his volatile Fire-inclined family. Yashu is a pleasant island girl who is expected to show a Water inclination but so far has reached her teens without demonstrating any signs of an inclination at all. It soon becomes apparent how the three strands of the book illustrate different aspects of living with Inclinations, and as the stories continue, hints begin to appear of how they might eventually interweave.

Personally I found Gregory's the most absorbing part of the story, but each has its own charms, and all are well told. Khollo's comments as he remembers Elder Ayn's words add an amusing touch to the otherwise dry reminiscences of a serious old man. After a long passage recalling a garrulous innkeeper they encountered on their travels, Elder Ayn interrupts himself to ask, "Was that a discreet little clearing of the throat I just heard? Khollo? Am I rambling? Is that it?" After which, Khollo recalls, "I suggested that the High Previsionary was perhaps in danger of committing the same crime he was accusing The Leaping Whale's proprietor of." Well, yes.

Gregory's and Yashu's stories, on the other hand, are told in third person narrative, which allows Lovegrove to display his virtuosity at balancing extraordinarily detailed world-building with dramatic action. The differing landscapes are vividly evoked, from the romantic shores of the island where, "the waves...ebbed gradually out, leaving fine black skeins of seaweed behind", to the riverside towns with their "crimson-ochre rooftop[s] and wall[s]."

It doesn't take a previsionary to predict that readers will be gripped by Worldstorm's twists and turns, where 'whim and chance have played as much of a part in determining direction as the certainties of prevision.' Elder Ayn's opening words point out his continual preoccupation with the part destiny plays in life, and the thorny question of how much in fact we achieve, "because we meant to, and how much we have achieved because we were meant to." While this is a core theme of the book, his overt concentration on this question masks what is in some ways a deeper concern: what one man can hope to achieve in his life, and what impact (for good or ill) one man's decisions and actions can have on others.

At every turn, Lovegrove examines what happens when personal stories and public ones intersect. The politics of the different groups are convincingly depicted, from the Earth- and Fire-inclined, at loggerheads over the supply of clay to the brickworks, to the renegade Air-inclineds, turning away from their traditional seclusion in a desperate attempt to rid the world of the storms that plague it. It is this which makes Lovegrove's novel not only an absorbing story in its own right, but also a telling fable about what happens to society once it allows rifts to develop between different social groups, and how such a damaged society might go about healing itself.