It’s unusual (to say the least) for a dystopian fantasy to be whimsical, but this one is. The dystopia is America after the Diseray, a cataclysm that began with a series of ecological disasters – volcanic eruptions, a polar switch, and earthquakes that left California an island and ended with a nuclear bomb. The combination brought about the Breakthrough – an opening of the fabric between the real and mythological worlds, through which poured the Othersiders: drakkens, kraken, leviathans, gogs, magogs, furies, harpies, fairy-like small fry, and the threatening Folk, powerful mages who, unlike the creatures, can plan. These creatures preyed on the surviving human population, which gradually gathered in various enclaves protected by men and women with courage, combat skills, and magical knowledge – Hunters.
Our heroine, Joyeaux Charmand, is a Hunter. She has been raised in a self-sufficient Rocky Mountain village that’s protected by a monastery in which Native American and Celtic shamans, Tibetan monks, Hindus, Sikhs, and Shintos have somehow come to mingle. Trained by these masters, she is not just a tremendously skilled Hunter, but a straightforward, witty, kind, un-competitive, intelligent person who is unswervingly dedicated to protecting cits (ordinary people) from the dangerous Otherworlders. She is sent from this odd pastoral world to the eastern city of Apex, which is sophisticated both technologically and socially – though its social sophistication is closer to cynicism. Hunters in Apex are celebrities, followed in constant videos and competing for popularity. It’s a glitzy world – but it doesn’t take her long to find out that the glitz is designed to distract Apex’s cits from noticing that more and more Otherworlders are getting through the barricades designed to keep them out. Or that the most popular Hunter, Ace, is jealous of her ability to attract fans. Or that Prefect Charmand, her uncle, is under pressure from two competing, corrupt factions in the government.
There’s plenty of action as Joyeaux and her Otherworldly hounds work together and with other Hunters to overcome monsters. There are also fancy-dress balls and plenty of politics as Joyeaux meets Ace’s bullying, jealousy – and finally, sabotage – with psychological understanding. But it’s Joyeaux herself who makes the book: often afraid but never cowardly, sardonically funny, always thinking more of the hunt than of her position in it, she is a never-ending delight. And like the author who created her, she’s extremely well-read. A drakken, she says, looks like Tenniel’s Jabberwock in “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” How can her Zapotec hounds have the names of Tibetan deities? Well, “maybe the Tibetan Othersiders and the Zapotec Othersiders are actually the same. I just roll with it.” And when we find that Diseray is not “disarray” but Dies Irae, we realize that Mercedes Lackey, despite having written over 100 books in 25 years, had a perfectly wonderful time writing this one.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.