Some plot spoilers follow, but reading the rest of this review won’t ruin your enjoyment of the story.
Once again, we follow the adventures of the hypatomancer (a fortune-telling wizard, though the predictions of the future are mostly moved off-stage here) Morpheus, who still has an uncompleted quest to rescue a woman he’s never met who is held prisoner in another dimension. Morpheus and his companions must travel a long way through a series of alternate dimensions where things get stranger and stranger. But before he can continue his quest, Morpheus feels morally obligated to do what he can to repair the dying ecosystem of a world that has been afflicted with a man-made disaster beyond the control of its inhabitants. Inevitably, Morpheus’ quest does not turn out at all the way he (or the reader most likely) expected, but that’s all part of the fun. There are plenty of unexpected twists, turns, and betrayals along the way. The job of a savior of the universe is never an easy one.
As with many (all?) of Reginald’s fiction, this is a journey of self-discovery as much as it is a quest to save the universe. Morpheus’ internal development is at least as important as the development of the plot and the quest as a whole. Like all too many of us, Morpheus begins the trilogy fairly self-oriented. He is embroiled with his own personal concerns, mostly to the exclusion of caring about other people and situations all around him. He has never really forged meaningful personal relationships – familial, romantic, or platonic – and has come to realize that without these connections, his own life is meaningless. The trilogy does a good job of showcasing Morpheus’ personal transformation and journey as he realizes that he needs other people as much as they need him.
Reginald’s prose flows smoothly and is delightfully clever as always. The secondary characters – Morpheus’ companions for the most part – continue to amuse. If I have one complaint about THE FOURTH ELEPHANT’S EGG, it’s that the threat to the universe that Morpheus must find a way to resolve is almost entirely off-screen. It’s really only clear to us that there is an imbalance in the universe that Morpheus must correct because several wise archmages and other powerful, enigmatic but beneficent figures tell Morpheus this is the case. We never directly see that the very foundations of the multiverse are shaking. Scenes of growing instability in the cosmos might have helped highlight the stakes and ratchet up the tension for Morpheus (and the reader).
Oh and we do finally get a quick glimpse of Nova Europa – Morpheus’ home that appeared in the first volume of the trilogy – and the recent goings-on there. Needless to say, I would very much like to see some additional stories about what happens next on Nova Europa! It’s a neat place.
If you have gotten this far in the series, you owe it to yourself to find out how it all turns out in THE FOURTH ELEPHANT’S EGG. If you’re in the mood for a fun fantasy series that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then you’ll want to pick up the first book in the trilogy, THE CRACKS IN THE AETHER.
Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers