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by Sean Stewart

Overall: 4
Readability: 6
Intelligence: 6

During a Mardi Gras celebration in 2004, the island of Galveston, Texas is suddenly overcome by a flood - not a flood of water, but magic. The world is changed. Galveston becomes isolated from the rest of the world, and splits into two distinct and parallel versions. One Galveston is pretty much the same, but without contact to the outside world and its resources, their technology and products are limited and unreliable. The other Galveston is a magical land doomed to endless carnival. After twenty years of delicate balance, power in the land of Galveston is about to shift. Jane Gardner, unofficial mayor of "real" Galveston, is on her deathbed. Her daughter Sloane strikes a desperate bargain with the magical god Momus, king of the festival in the Magical version of Galveston. Seduced by the magical carnival, Sloane mistakenly agrees to a crooked bargain. Josh Cane, formerly a rich kid who fell on hard luck when his father was exiled to the carnival, has a thing for Sloane and gets himself and his buddy into trouble trying to help out.

It's difficult to summarize the story here, and it definitely has it's odd points. Galveston certainly doesn't follow any of the tried and true fantasy recipes, that's for sure, though at times Stewart hints at such cliches, only to turn back at the last moment. His style is adequate, and he seems to have a reasonable ability to get the pages turning, but the story lacked something. To be honest, I don't think it works. There were a few times during the story where I thought things would pick up, but instead descended into something completely different. Normally that wouldn't be so bad, but this isn't an eschewing of cliche ideas in favor of something more interesting, it's just doing so for the sake of doing so. For instance, at one point, the scene was set for a courtroom drama, but Stewart doesn't go that route (and let's just say that I'm not too impressed with the legal foundation of this Galveston). In itself, that isn't a bad thing - who needs another trite courtroom drama? - but it's not like anything of substance took its place. The novel moves from one interesting idea to another, but it only stays long enough to hint at it, then careens off in some other direction.

It's not so much that Stewart writes poorly or that the actions of the characters are unrealistic (despite their unreal surroundings), it's that it's difficult to like the characters and I'm not quite sure what Stewart is getting at. There are plenty of themes to draw from and lessons to glean, but this is certainly an unenjoyable way to acquire such insights. It's said that writing a novel with flawed characters is difficult to do, but I'm not sure this novel is the best example of that either. It feels like Steward really wants us to dislike his characters. Take Josh Cane. Relatively intelligent and resourceful, but a bit arrogant and wistful. All in all he seems like a decent guy, but the townsfolk react to him in a much more extreme manner than is warranted. At one point, he has a falling out with his friend Ham, but I can't seem to figure out why. It turns out that Ham was only friends with Josh because Josh's father paid Ham's family to take care of his son - where does Ham get off judging Josh so harshly? And there's a lot more that is frustrating about their relationship (and others) than that, too.

I suppose you could make the case that this is simply a realistic portrayal of a wounded friendship (after all, emotional disagreements such as the one shared by the characters aren't guided by reason) and it's clear that the hypocrisy is intentional, but it doesn't particularly make for great reading. I don't know why, but I had expected something more fun and optimistic than cynical and pessimistic. I suppose it's not quite as bad if you're coming from that perspective. This one just didn't agree with me I guess.


Further Discussion:
  • Is Josh a weenie? Is Ham a hypocrite? Are these really likeable characters and are their interactions warranted?
  • What would society really be like if a small town was suddenly cut off from the rest of the world? Is Galveston accurate?

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