Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Revisionary (Magic Ex Libris #4) by Jim C Hines

Isaac Vainio has revealed the magic to the world. It seemed he had little choice in the matter and he had some amazing dreams – even now with the New Millenium project he hopes to bring in so many amazing things to improve the world and humanity. Magic can make the world better

Unfortunately for his dreams, people are suspicious, scared, angry, prejudiced, panicked, demanding and also quite creative in the many many ways magic can make the world a whole lot worse.

Between magical terrorists, conspiracies, government crackdowns and growing international chaos – Isaac has to try and bring some level of peace and order before everything completely falls apart.

We had a major game changer in the last book – the existence of magic was revealed to the entire world. All world governments are now aware that magic exists and the supernatural exists and everyone is reacting as you’d expect.

With general panic and confusion and a whole lot of chaos

I like how this is presented. Even if we’re focused on Isaac in the US, we do get regularly little inserts letting us know what is happening in different parts of the world. We see many different approaches and a lot of it is unpleasant and a lot of it is complicated. I really like that we have something in between genocidal slaughtering rage and utopian love and acceptance. I think this is very true of the real world. I think humanity would react with fear and hate in many cases… but I also think that at least some humanity, enough, would be…. Uncomfortable with the idea of a whole scale extermination. Certainly many would be on side. And they’d certainly be on side with limits and restrictions – but there would be enough discomfort to make genocide not an automatic go-to.

So we have a lot of complexity. And that includes with Issac is wonderfully idealistic. He wants to use magic to solve all the world’s problems. He has big dreams about the amazing things he can do. He can cure all these diseases! He can make a portal to the moon! He can make everything awesome all the time isn’t it going to be wonderful.

And then we have the ghost of Gutenberg, a senator who is on his side and basic reality slapping him – not with evil (though there’s that as well) but just how short sighted his idealism is. Like he wants to cure all the people – but this effectively means medical experimentation (on children no less!) with no scientific oversight or testing for side effects. It’s alright for Isaac to say “no the book says it’s fine there’s no side effects in The Lion the Witch the Wardrobe” but there’s no way you can expect the greater scientific community to accept that without some level of oversight. Or there’s Isaac insisting he will never weaponise magic – which is fine; but what about when enemies of the United States clearly are? What about China and Japan sabre rattling to war? What about Russia drafting supernatural creatures into the army? In this position can you just decide weaponising magic is completely off the table? On top of all that we have the fact that, as the book points out, the Porters are not an American organisation and there are more Libriomancers in Indian and China than the US – so where does that leave the Porters when one country is weaponising and the whole nebulous concept of sides and positions

I like how Issac’s very earnest, very well meaning moral positions are just severely challenged because things are rarely that simplistic. It works so well with the world building and bringing a heavy dose of reality to Isaac’s very hopeful stance.

Isaac has become pretty much a very very powerful Libriomancer in this book, even while working within clear limits as well. He has definitely turned into a badass, at least a little. There’s always a risk of mighty Gary Stu here – but not in this series which loves to fight that. Yes Isaac is a badass, but not more so than Lena who is definitely kicking arse with epicness at all stages. And while he may be a rocking Libriomancer, there are other Libriomancers who can do things he cannot. And I even love that he assumes the big bads are going to use his discovery and his egotism is poked when it turns out to be something else entirely. Nothing else indicated it would be his discovery that would be used: it was his own assumption (and an assumption the book led me to the same and, in turn, wonderfully challenged with the twist).

It’s moments like this that really make me love these books, the way they nicely undermine so many common tropes in the genre really makes me appreciate it. In fact, this book repeatedly challenges assumptions and adds nuance and complexity that generally make me love it a lot. No-one is simple. No-one is a caricature

Through all this we have poking at the Porter’s own internal prejudices: like how they tend to elevate human magic users and dismiss non-human magic using intelligent creatures. Or how the Porters didn’t consider the massacre of Detroit’s vampires overly worthy of comment which led to the whole woolly creation of Vanguard and a whole lot of resentment. Lots of lovely complexity.

This follows over with representation as well. While the protagonist, Isaac, is a cis straight white man, his love interested, side kick and general most prominent character after him is Lena, a woman of colour and a bisexual woman. While a product from a book, she has, as it has expressly been told again and again that she has risen way above how she was originally written. She is a fully realised character, skilled, capable and more than a little awesome. She does have one trope in that she does have multiple partners which is something that often comes with bisexuals. However the way it is portrayed it’s linked not to her sexuality but to her supernatural nature. She also has a girlfriend, an Indian woman Nidhi and they form their own family which, after several bumps, has finally found its level.

We have a minor trans character who has excellently used the new available magic to reflect their gender identity. They’re a good friend of Isaac’s and present despite being a minor character. We also have both Black and Native American libriomancers – Jeneta and Talulah, working with Isaac who have worked with him before in previous books (and surpass him in some ways). We also have the Chinese character Bi Wei part of the Students of Bi Sheng who has also been a major force through the series as another character who added some excellent insight (which, again, also challenges the expertise assumed by western Libriomancy). One interesting character is Japanese as well as some minor Latina characters as well. We have Nicola who is one of the head Porters and is autistic and also kind of awesome as well as in a position of authority which is very unusual for an autistic character. There’s a lot of diversity here.

Through all this wonderful complexity and nuance we still have a lot of fun – both the simple (like the man with the magical ability to talk to animals who finds animals just aren’t all that interesting conversationalists) jokey amusement through to an epic, action packed story. It’s excellently well written – there’s lots of emotional moments of joy and excitement and rage (one of the best signs I have for a book is it makes me angry. Not at IT but at the events, IN the book – and not because it taps into my own various angers – but because it invests me so much in these characters that their enemies become my enemies). It was a book I didn’t want to stop reading, didn’t want to slow reading and wanted to follow to the very end – it was a page turner, a sleep stealer and a book where I absolutely had to know the ending. It was an excellently written book that I absolutely loved… and I just hope it will go somewhere from here and this isn’t an ending.