Pros: Fascinating world; great story & characters; cinematic action; self-contained
Rating: 5 out of 5
Evrenfels is a high fantasy kingdom, a world of privileged magic-wielding nobility and poor magic-less peasantry. It is cut off from the outside world by the Great Barrier, erected centuries ago to protect the MageLords from a commoner uprising. Outside the barrier, the mages are forgotten as anything other than myth and legend. Magic doesn’t exist, and a steampunk-style technology is on the rise. All this time, the two cultures have existed almost entirely unaware of each other, but that is about to end.
On the MageLords’ side of the barrier, several very powerful people want to bring it down—each for his or her own purposes. This requires the death of several innocent people, but each of the conspirators has managed to justify the cost. It’s surely worth it, after all, in order to restore the kingdom’s power, to keep magic from disappearing from the world, or to crush the MageLords’ power entirely. Of course, the planned sacrificial lambs have other plans, and they have one surprising thing on their sides—on the outside, a scientist and his apprentice plan to sail over the Barrier in a new flying ship to finally find out what lies beyond. And their arrival adds unpredictable variables that will throw decades’ worth of plans into upheaval.
Lee Arthur Chane’s Magebane is an original and delightful tale of epic fantasy and magic, steampunk science, adventure, tragedy, and love. I enjoyed the self-contained nature of the book—it’s clear that the world has a great deal of potential for more stories, but you won’t get to the end of this one and feel frustrated waiting for the arrival of the next.
The mix of high fantasy and steampunk is one that I regarded with suspicion; such a blend is difficult to do well, such that it makes sense and doesn’t create a sense of genre discord. Chane did a marvelous job with it, however; instead of detracting from the story, it definitely added. I loved the fact that magic was highly based in thermodynamic principles, much like the steam power that drives steampunk science, and yet Chane successfully presented these two things as similar-yet-different rather than conflating them.
Although I’ve raved solely about the worldbuilding so far, there’s plenty more to recommend it. The characters are delightful; even the most monstrous of them has logically self-consistent reasons and justifications for what he’s doing, and the conspirators have a range of motivations that drive them—some altruistic, or seemingly so, and others not so much. The young heroes of the story (Prince Karl, Brenna—the ward of the worst of the conspirators, and Anton—the boy from beyond the barrier) display a believable mix of smarts and foolishness, courage and fear. There’s plenty of action and excitement to keep things going, and various events surprised me, which was fun.
If you enjoy fantasy, steampunk, and adventure, I think you’ll find Magebane to be a surprisingly delightful blend of the three!