When I read books like THE CRACKS IN THE AETHER, I become increasingly convinced that the only difference between a blockbuster hit and a terrific book that few will ever read is a big marketing budget. This a genuinely funny, smart fantasy novel with engaging characters, snappy dialogue, and an interesting, well-developed setting. There’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t be as big of a hit as, say, Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series or much of Alan Dean Foster’s or Craig Shaw Gardner’s work. (And I intend those comparisons to be extremely complimentary, as those are genuinely funny books that were big hits in their day.)
Some plot spoilers follow, but I promise not to ruin your enjoyment of the story.
This is the first volume in the Hypatomancer’s Tale trilogy that tells the story of a court mage, Morpheus, who has the misfortune/opportunity to live in a time of great crisis and change. He is the eponymous hypatomancer, a mage who possesses the gift of fortunetelling, in addition to his other arcane abilities. Morpheus, seemingly by sheer happenstance, hears a cry for help from a woman trapped somewhere in the Otherworlds, the collective name for the network of various alternative timelines/universes to Nova Europa (I suppose that our own Earth is one of these).
Several plots and sub-plots soon unfold: it quickly becomes apparent that the kingdom of Korynthia in Nova Europa (Morpheus’ world) serves faces a time of great change. Indeed, the very kingdom may soon collapse into civil war. Morpheus soon resigns his position in Korynthia and leaves his responsibilities to travel through the Otherworlds to rescue a woman he has never met and hasn’t even seen her face. Now that’s a true romantic!
Much of the book involves scenes of witty banter between our protagonist and his familiar, a wherret, which seems to be a sentient ferret-like creature with a nicely alien mindset and vast knowledge of all things magical. Dialogue and humor are the real strengths of THE CRACKS IN THE AETHER. Reginald uses an ever-so-slightly archaic tone in his dialogue and exposition, and this seems to work well in establishing the tone that (1) this is a fantasy setting and (2) this is not our world.
I should also note that I would dearly love to see a map of Nova Europa. I don’t know if such a graphic exists, but I’m always a sucker for cool, interesting maps in fantasy novels, so let me put in a request for one now. I would also like to hear more about Nova Europa as a setting, as the vague hints and allusions to it in THE CRACKS IN THE AETHER are intriguing. When exactly did it begin diverging from our own history? Has magic always been available to its inhabitants? It’s become clear that the next book (and possibly the third) will move away from Nova Europa and to the Otherworlds, but I would also like to see Morpheus return to Korynthia and see if he can help resolve that poor kingdom’s troubles. I grew to like that place and its queen while Morpheus was there and I’d like to know what’s going to happen to it.
If you like fun, light-hearted, but still smart fantasy novels, than look no further than THE CRACKS IN THE AETHER. I recommend it highly. I have just read the next book in the series, and am looking forward to the third. (Reviews of those to follow soon.) This trilogy is apparently part of a larger, twelve-volume sequence of tales set in Nova Europa. I have not yet read those first nine volumes, but their existence certainly presented no difficulties when I plunged into THE CRACKS IN THE AETHER.
Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers