Thursday, November 11, 2010
I picked up Ariel on a whim. I liked the concept, you don’t see many books featuring unicorns these days and this was the first post apocalyptic book I can ever remember seeing with one.
The best one line description I’ve seen for Ariel comes from author Cory Doctorow: Part post apocalypse, part road trip, part sword-and-sorcery.
The twist on the post apocalyptic setting was that there was no real explanation given for what caused the apocalypse. It just happened. Survivors refer to it as ‘the Change’. One evening all technology on Earth just stopped working and magical creatures started appearing.
Pete Garey is a survivor, ever since ‘the Change’ he’s simply drifted aimlessly across a depopulated USA. One day while bathing in a stream he encounters an injured unicorn. He befriends the creature, helps her heal, names her Ariel and the two of them continue the journey.
Things are fine until they get to Atlanta and other people become aware of Ariel, or more specifically the magical properties of her horn. She becomes the target of a powerful necromancer based in Manhattan. Pete’s friend, the warrior Malachi goes to Manhattan to take the necromancer out and make the world just that little bit safer for everyone. Pete and Ariel aren’t supposed to follow, but since when did teenagers (Pete is probably in his early 20’s, but acts like a teenager and Ariel is very similar in that respect) do what they were told.
As they track Malachi cross country they meet up with other inhabitants of this strange new world, among them are a young man whose idiot father has given him the task of killing a dragon and not returning home with proof that he has done so. Then there is Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy is an attractive university student who has dreamt her whole life of meeting something like Ariel. Her presence and Pete’s attraction to her causes some problems between unicorn and young man, although they are resolved to a certain extent by the time the trio reach Manhattan.
Author Steven R. Boyett does action sequences very well and the climactic face off between Pete and his small band of survivors and the forces of the necromancer, including an assassin who rides a griffin, is very well written and genuinely suspenseful.
This book was published when the author was 21 (in 1983, it was reprinted by ACE in 2009) and there are some things that make the reader wonder: where have all the people gone, how did Pete and Shaughnessy managed to survive for as long as they did when they’re both pretty clueless when they’re originally introduced, how come the shops haven’t been looted more in 4 – 5 years, how has food and other goods managed to keep for that length of time? They’re minor quibbles, but they do take you out of the story at times.
Essentially Ariel is a coming of age story as much as anything and the emotional journey that the two protagonists go on is what keeps the reader turning the pages.
I found Ariel a definite page turner and an easy read, a little lighter than the subject material would initially indicate. Despite its flaws I did enjoy the novel and have no hesitation in recommending that people pick it up and give it a chance.
Boyett has written a sequel; Elegy Beach, set 30 years after the events of Ariel.