Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Wanderers and Islanders Legends of the Land Book One

Steve Cockayne

Orbit / Metaventures

UK Trade Paperback First

ISBN 1-84149-120-9

278 Pages; £9.99

Date Reviewed: 05-15-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002




04-25-02, 05-09-02, 05-16-02, 03-26-03

Fantasy can be a pretty wide-open genre, if authors are willing to take advantage of the freedom it allows. Steve Cockayne obviously enjoys his freedom. In 'Islanders and Wanderers Legends of the Land: Book One' he's decided that he can fly like a bird and create what he wants to see at will. It's a pretty neat trick and he manages it well. 'Islanders and Wanderers' is a light but not lightweight concoction. Cockayne creates some enjoyable characters, a mysterious but logical world, and stirs them together in a very interesting tapestry. Each of the colors he uses is rather simple, but he brings them together in a unique fashion. The mystery behind 'Islanders and Wanderers' is a living thing, an entire world. 278 pages of unraveling reveal a talented writer at play in the fields of his own imagination.

The initial appeal of 'Islanders and Wanderers' is its clarity and the down-to-earth feel. With one exception each character is presented matter-of-factly, without any mythological or significance. Victor Lazarus has accepted the job to manage the refurbishing of a huge house, Rusty Brown is a teenager in a village, who is outgrowing his place. Leonardo Pegasus, magician to the King, lives in a big city, tinkering with a technology that allows him to envision potential futures. Leonardo is on his way down. His technology is about to be superceded by something smaller, newer different. His lifetime of training has not prepared him for this, and he is too old to adapt. He finds himself out of favor -- unemployed.

Such is Cockayne's skill that he manages to unleash thoughts about a number of issues very relevant to present day life, all in his descriptions of his invented world. His take on technology in this book is as clever as that in any science fiction novel, but somehow more subtle, more natural. His technologies are all quite fascinating as well, a wonderful visual melange of steampunk and fantasy icons, artfully re-arranged into something new.

His characters have a very enjoyable familiarity to them. They feel like people the reader knows, they're warm, likable. And as their paths begin to wind together, the reader becomes ever more interested in the Mystery at the heart of it all. Cockayne is to be complimented on his ability to get the reader hooked into the mystery early on. Pretty soon, between the friendly characters and the intriguing parallels and speculations, the pages really start flying.

Cockayne wants to fly as well, giving the reader lots of bird's eye views of the land. The cover is a very effective glimpse into the feel of the novel. But sometimes, Cockayne moves too fast for even the surest-footed reader, and his characters do seem to fly apart a bit too fast and too far. They come together, however, with a very nice precision in an almost musical pattern. That they do so and manage to preserve a large part of the feeling of mystery while relieving the reader of the facts of the mystery is pretty impressive. But Cockayne's light touch prevent it from becoming ponderous.

'Islanders and Wanderers' certainly sets itself up well for sequels, but does not demand them. The reader need not take the 'Book One' as a warning that they will be left hanging about at the end, waiting for a resolution to a plot thread introduced in the last three pages of the novel. Cockayne has written a very nice, smallish novel that does some interesting things well. That's actually much harder than it sounds and much harder than he makes it look.