Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mortal Coils by Eric Nylund

I've had this sitting on the TBR pile for years now and I think I may have done the book a great disservice by taking this long to actually read it.

On the surface of it Mortal Coils looks and sounds like fairly standard YA urban fantasy, but there is so much more to it than that.

The just turned fifteen year old twins Eliot and Fiona Post have been raised and home schooled by their incredibly strict grandmother Audrey, and the only relief they get from the grind of schoolwork and actual part time work at a local pizza restaurant is from their very old great grandmother Cee, who despite being older than Audrey defers to her daughter.

The one thing that the Post twins have always been curious about is the identity of their parents, but talk of them seems to be forbidden as are many other things in the twins lives. In fact their grandmother has 106 written rules that are not to be broken for any reason.

Like many children raised by emotionally distant guardians the kids are very close and protective of each other and like teenagers they like to tease each other. In keeping with their rather unusual upbringing the teasing takes the form of a game they call vocabulary insult, in which they use obscure literary allusions and scientific terms to insult each other. The first of them either to unable work out the reference, or reply to it adequately, loses.

Everything changes on the eve of their fifteenth birthdays when odd things start to happen to them and they encounter outsiders.

The truth of it is that Eliot and Fiona are the offspring of a forbidden union between an Infernal (fallen angel, in this case Lucifer) and an Immortal (goddess). Their respective families have become aware of their existence and both want them, but before they can be accepted into the fold by either side, they must be tested to see what, if anything, they have inherited from their parents.

Mortal Coils was an astonishing book in many ways. The characterisation of Eliot and Fiona was spot on. The two were believable and engaging protagonists and audiences should be able to identify with them and the trials they go through. Their actual talents were interesting and different. Eliot finds he has an affinity with music and Fiona can literally cut things with her sheer will.

There was an interesting mix of myth and legend from ancient Greek and Norse legends to modern day urban legends (the giant alligator in the sewers and Area 51). Gods such as Hermes and the Fates play prominent parts along with fallen angels like Lucifer and Beelzebub.

There's a joke that runs through the narrative that this isn't so much a novel as something based on actual accounts from Eliot and Fiona, who aren't fictional protagonists but real people who have themselves passed into legend.  This is backed by a note from the editor at the start of the book and footnotes throughout that reference such sources as Gods of the First and Twenty-first Century, The Post Family Mythology or the Mythica Improbiba by Father Sildas Pious. I'm a great fan of things like this, they really add depth to a work.

It's highly ambitious and has much more behind it than a first look leads one to believe. One of the stunning things about Mortal Coils is despite that depth and the extra work that must have been undertaken to execute this, it never loses quality or fails to delight.

I've got to say that overall Mortal Coils was a joy to read, so much so that I've even got the sequel All That Lives Must Die ready to go soon.

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