Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Storm Thief

Originally published in The Edge of the Forest, Vol. 1, Issue 5, June/July 2006.

Storm Thief
by Chris Wooding
Reviewed by Liz Burns, A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

There seems to be an unwritten rule for fantasy: there's no such thing as one book. Pick up a random fantasy title, and it turns out that it's "book one" of a trilogy, a quartet, a series. Chris Wooding is a rarity in that he writes stand alone fiction, such as The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray and Poison. His most recent work, Storm Thief, is another stand-alone addition to YA fantasy. These stand-alone titles are refreshing because sometimes, I just want to read one book and have completion. There are titles I haven't picked up because I don't want to commit to another four-book series that won't be finished for at least six years. I want to get to the end of the book and know that I have read the end of the story.

Wooding's fantasies are always well-thought-out, complete worlds. This makes me admire the lack of sequels even more. Given all the work that has to go into making a complex fantasy world, I think it would be easy to write a second or third book in a setting that is already established. It must be more work to invent, over and over again, something new and different. Yet this is what Wooding does: each new book by Wooding gives us a peek into some different universe.

In The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, Wooding creates a vaguely Edwardian alternate universe with vampires and ghosts and demons; in Poison, it's a world of fairy tales come true; and in Storm Thief, the created world is a distant future where anything is possible.

Rail and Moa live in the city of Orokos; they are the lowest of the low on the social ladder, thieves who live in a ghetto-like section of the city. The privileged and the thief have one thing in common: they live in fear of storms— probability storms. When one strikes, anything can happen. It can be as minor as being right-handed before a storm and left-handed after; and as strange as disappearing from the city and reappearing only in pictures. Rail is well aware of the risks of living in a place where anything can happen. One such probability storm took away his ability to breathe, and now he has a permanent mask and portable machine to force air into his lungs. Orokos urban legend says the cause of the storms is the Storm Thief:
"Anything could happen when the Storm Thief was abroad. He was a wicked entity who delighted in mischief, as likely to snatch a person's purse as he was to shower them with jewels. He might steal a baby's eyes and replace them with buttons, or turn a house into sugar paper. The tale was old, invented long ago to make sense of the senseless. People used it to explain probability storms to their offspring. But though it was only a legend, they never quite managed to stop believing in it themselves. When they talked of the damage wrecked to their lives in the aftermath of the storm, they still talked of a visit from the Storm Thief."

Rail and Moa steal something they shouldn't, and end up on fleeing across the various segregated sections of the city, entering areas where they don't belong. It's a nightmare version of a road trip; their pursuers include Mozgas, reaver-like monsters, the thief master, Anya-Jacana, the Secret Police, the machine-like man, Vago, and the vampire-like ghosts, the Revenants. Rail and Moa are fleeing death and punishment, but they are also running towards a hope of a better life, of an escape from Orokos and its probability storms.

In The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, Wooding explored the power of belief; in Poison, the meaning of story. In Storm Thief, Wooding looks at the balance between chaos and order, stagnancy and creativity. Wooding once again creates not just a believable world, but also one with an interesting, complex plot and fully realized characters. It's beautifully written; in the ARC, the note from the editor, David Levithan, is simple: "Chris Wooding is at it again. His imagination never ceases to amaze me. Read on."

Read on and be amazed at how Wooding has once again created a unique fantasy.

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