Saturday, December 4, 2010
In November I read a little oddity originally published in 1983, this was a minor cult classic called Ariel by Steven R. Boyett.
Elegy Beach is the sequel to Ariel, published 27 years later. The action picks up roughly 30 years after the end of the first book. Humanity seems to have settled down into a form of existence after coming to terms with their technologyless existence. Where Ariel was the story of 'change' survivor Pete Garey, Elegy Beach is the story of his teenage son; Fred, so named after Pete's original samurai sword.
Fred works for a trader and magic caster, an elderly Greek man, commonly referred to by most of the residents in the beach community of Del Mar, California, as Paypay. What minor magic Paypay teaches Fred, he promptly shares with his best friend; Yanamandra 'Yan' Ramachandani, son of the local 'doctor'. What Pete Garey experienced in Ariel, and on his journey westward to try and make a new life for himself and his family have left him both mentally and emotionally scarred.
While Fred is happy to learn as much as he can from Paypay and discover the brave new world of humanity, Yan wants more. Eventually Yan's obsession with returning humanity's former dominance over the world by means of technological supremacy causes a rift between the two, and Yan is banished from the beachside community.
Yan's actions in the world outside bring an old friend back into Pete's life and a small band are forced to leave their home and bring the now immensely powerful Yan to heel, before it's too late for everyone.
In the 27 years between the publication of Ariel and Elegy Beach Steven R. Boyett has matured both as an author and a person, and this is obvious in the sequel to one of his best known works. There's a lot more magic in Elegy Beach than there was in it's predecessor, and he's developed an interestlingly explained magical system that works rather like computer software (the author calls it spellware). There was nothing like this in Ariel, the magic worked just because. The post 'change' world is a little more completely realised, although I still felt there were too many well preserved remnants of the modern world in a society that had been removed from that lifestyle for nearly 3 decades. As with the young dragon slayer George (get it?) in Ariel, who seemed like he was in the book, because he was a good idea at the time, there's a foul mouthed teenage girl called Avy in Elegy Beach, she gets the band of merry adventurers out of a few scrapes, seems to form a relationship with Ariel and Fred, then disappears the same way George went back to his family. In fact Fred seems to develop a few tentative liaisons with girls, but they're never followed through on.
I've felt given the setting Boyett has created for these 2 books that he's missed an opportunity to really explore magical creatures. In Ariel we got to know a lot about unicorns as seen by one, and griffins, manticores and dragons were also mentioned, but we never really saw much of them, although the idea of dragons being full of gas, thus enabling them to fly and breathe fire, was pretty cool and logically thought out. In Elegy Beach we hear about sea serpents and rocs, but the readers actually see centaurs. To a large extent the centaurs are the bad guys, taking the place of the necromancers hired thugs in Ariel. There is of course one soft hearted centaur by the name of Bob, who is slightly different from the rest of his warlike race. I quite liked Boyett's depiction of centaurs as somewhat alien creatures very different from the usual image of a person with a horse's body that is seen in most literature featuring centaurs (Harry Potter, Piers Anthony's Xanth series, etc...). It also made me wish that Raymond E. Feist had written more about the Thun (centaur like inhabitants of Kelewan) in his Midkemia books.
As with Ariel, Boyett writes action very well, and his fight sequences obviously drew on his martial arts experience and were the better for it. Like Ariel the ending was bitter sweet. There's scope for further novels, but I doubt that Boyett wants to write them. It did take him 27 years to write Elegy Beach after all. Elegy Beach can be read as a standalone novel, it is not necessary to have read Ariel, although it's a good read too, and a chapter of Elegy Beach is devoted to covering the events of Ariel as background for the story that will take place
It's a good, fun adventure novel and does make you think occasionally how you would deal with life if all the technology we take for granted suddenly ceased to exist. I don't regret the time spent reading it.