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Catalyst, by Brandon Crilly

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also, the author is a convention/online friend.

There’s an entire subgenre of books that look like fantasy on the surface but are actually science fiction when you look close. Or straddle the line: are these energy beings aliens? are they a magical race? does it matter?

Brandon’s book is one of those: you start with a stage magician called Mavrin, doing what is clearly stage magic. Sleight of hand. Tricks. And then things unfold: the objects Mavrin has, are they magic, are they a kind of technology he doesn’t fully understand. Are they trouble: oh yes, definitely that.

This is a world that humans have altered beyond recognition, and they–and others–are still learning to live with the fallout of their alterations. And as has been the case so often in history, sometimes humans have no idea what they’ve done. Crilly does an admirable job of showing a variety of characters with different reactions to their world and its implications, always making sure that the humans are comprehensibly human (and the aliens are consistently themselves). This was fun to read, and I’m excited to see what he does next.

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