LIGHT GIVER by Mike Slade, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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LIGHT GIVER by Mike Slade, Review

Alexander Wallace sees the light.
Fantasy loves chosen ones. As much as we muse and thunder about how overdone they are, we keep coming back. We have Anakin Skywalker and Aang and so many others in popular media, and there seems to be no signs of stopping it. Such is Kaine, the titular character of Mike Slade’s novel Light Giver, set to be released in May 2022 (the author received an ARC for this review).

Kaine has quite the ability, thrust upon him by forces beyond his knowledge, the power to heal. It is an interesting ability to thrust upon somebody; fantasy as a genre is inclined to the warlike and deadly, so choosing something so literally life-affirming is a welcome change. As with so many chosen ones, from Jesus to Luke Skywalker, they have to suffer immensely for their gifts, and Kaine is no exception.

Kaine is not, however, the only character worth paying attention to. Slade has assembled an ensemble cast that will delight the reader, from a princess, Na’Serra, who buckles at the role her homeland has thrust upon her. There are war-priests and regular priests and vagabonds and missionaries, all of whom both entertain you with their wit and dialogue and, by proxy, enliven the world in which they live.

Slade shows his base of knowledge off well in the diversity of cultures he creates. There’s the ever-present dichotomy between the ‘barbarian’ lands filled with nonstate peoples who live with no social organization greater than a village, and its opposition in large settled societies. There are shades between those two poles, with a number of city states visited; there seems to be a bit of ancient Mesopotamia sneaking in here in a way that I find to be refreshing.
The astute reader will note that the protagonists come from societies with active magic and a belief in multiple gods or otherwise divine beings, and that an antagonist is a large hierarchical religion that believes in only one deity, has less than stellar views towards other religions, and disdains magic. It’s something of an on-the-nose metaphor, but Slade uses it well. My only quibble would be that there’s not enough depiction of how a lot of the polytheistic religion works practically; Bret Deveraux’s blog has a series of articles that goes into this well.

Particularly interesting is how Slade portrays the variety of cultures encountered within the narrative. There’s a particularly dangerous challenge for daredevils in one city I thought was quite fun. There’s also the vivid imagery of a rite-of-passage, of sorts, in another country, placed in an interesting physical environment that heightens the stakes of the scenes set therein. Even better is how he shows these cultures interacting, particularly in regards to each’s way of practicing magic. You can see the beginnings of a creole culture in some instances, as your hardy group of wanderers seeks to understand one another.

Light Giver was a nice treat, not too long, fully earning its welcome. Slade is a promising new voice in fantasy, and I encourage anyone who may be interested to give it a shot when it is released.

Light Giver will be available on May 3 in print, eBook, and audiobook.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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