Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Bloom, by Kate Elliott

★★★★★ A Rich Setting, A Complex Plot, and Sympathetic Characters

(Alternate History Fantasy; Spiritwalker Trilogy) Autumn House is failing for lack of new magisters, so Titus grudgingly accepts the aid of a young diviner, even if she is a woman. (16,441 words; Time: 54m)

"Bloom," by (edited by Gardner Dozois), appeared in (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2018.651 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Titus’s mission to try to find recruits for declining Autumn House seems increasingly hopeless. Even with Serena’s help, it’s hard to be fast enough to find new mages before the richer, more prestigious competition snaps them up. Sometimes lost causes are more inspiring, though, and it’s hard not to wish the best for him. We thrill to his successes and cringe at the setbacks.

Titus mostly buys into the sexist society he’s grown up in, but, unlike the brutish Beltane, he’s capable of seeing past it. For example, even though he doesn’t believe a woman magister belongs in the field, he takes Serena seriously when she reports detecting a “bloom” to the north, and when he finds it, he follows up on it.

The strongest thing that characterizes Titus, though, is that he is still mourning his lost teenage son. A strong secondary plotline in the story is Titus’s journey back to a place where he can love his wife and daughters again. The ending moved me to tears—tears of joy, the very hardest kind to evoke.

The plot twist is a neat one as well: Serena knows that an alliance with a rich house like Four Moons will benefit Autumn House much more than any newly bloomed magisters they might find. Titus knows this too, as he hints that merely sharing a meal with the head of the house would be of benefit, but he’s too focused on his narrow view of his mission to think of doing anything but look for new mages.

Serena, as others accurately observe, is out to better her situation, and she certainly aces that goal. But she’s not selfish about it. She tells Titus to trust her, and his trust (reluctant though he is to give it) is not misplaced.

A word about the setting is in order. This is a prequel to the author's "Spiritwalker Trilogy" novels, which is an alternate history where (among other things) people from the Empire of Mali somehow merged with or overthrew the kingdoms of medieval Europe, bringing magic with them. Most of the names in the story are Latin-derived, such as Anvers (Antwerp), where House Autumn is based, the Rhenus (Rhine) river, Lutetia (Cadiz), where the invasion from Mali started, and Gadir (Paris). Imbolc, the holiday when the spirit world is close and latent talent may bloom, is the name of a Celtic festival of the Vernal Equinox, and there's a good bit of Celtic influence in this culture too. I liked the setting enough that I bought the three novels.

Con: Does it really make sense that the Mansa of Four Moons would still want Serena after learning she had already been married?

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. This story is set in Elliott’s spiritwalker universe and I’d recommend checking out the books and other stories set within (This is a prequel to the trilogy of books)

    1. Ah, yes. I see it starts with Cold magic and then there are two more in the trilogy.