Review of Worldstorm by James Lovegrove

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Elder Ayn doesn’t really know why the Worldstorm comes to wreak devastation on the world any more than the next man. But, being a previsionary, he does know the exact time and nature of his death. He will be murdered and he will do nothing to prevent the killing blow.  Elder Ayn also knows why he has left the splendid academic isolation of Stonehaven and gone out into the world. He knows where his quest will take him. But he’s not about to tell his scribe, Khollo.

And meanwhile the world’s order is breaking down. In the country of Jarraine, war is brewing between the Earth and Fire Inclined, james-lovegrove-worldstorm-hbkbetween people who can shake the ground with a fist or pull fire out of the air with a simple thought. A storm is coming.

This being Lovegrove, the classic Fantasy template is tweaked more than a tad – so before you roll your eyes at the clichéd old Quest plotline that emerges from this intriguing world, I’ll reassure you that Lovegrove is a far too talented and original writer to fall into this overused trope without knowing exactly he’s doing. Elder Ayn is definitely the main character in this tale – again – a spin on the setup that has our plucky young hero mentored by a wise, all-knowing scholar/wizard who supports him because said scholar’s Second Sight has divined that this particular individual is crucial to the success of the mission… Ayn is driven by his previsionary powers to collect up Yashu and Gregory, the other two protagonists and is so convinced that he has the answer to the problem of the Worldstorm, that he also decides to hire Khollo for his powers of absolute recall to record the trip for posterity – as he also knows it will end in his murder.

Needless to say, the journey is uncomfortable and, at times, dangerous. But no one other than Yashu and Gregory will suffice – and I’m betting right now, that scenario of staple Fantasy fare is sounding very familiar.

Lovegrove depicts a fascinating conundrum surrounding these superhumans – Ayn is able to deceive Yashu and her lie-detecting skills by simply avoiding telling an outright falsehood. And increasingly, as we hear Ayn’s self-important justifications regarding his interference in Yashu and Gregory’s already difficult lives, the reader is encouraged to wonder about the extent of Ayn’s previsionary powers. Just how much of this adventure is fuelled by his drive to leave his mark on the world? We are left in no doubt of his drive, knowledge and supreme self-confidence – but how much of his belief that the Worldstorm is caused by the rise of humanity’s extra powers is based on his ability to see into the future, rather than the need to find evidence to fit his favourite theory?

Ayn is the classic unreliable narrator – and, as the plot unfolds, we begin to realise that Khollo also has his own agenda. Indeed, the interaction between Ayn and Khollo gives rise to most of the humour in the book – which is also counter-balanced by some of the graphic action scenes during the battle. I’m conscious that so far, I’ve managed to give the impression that this is a rather dry book concentrating on the characters’ motivations and Lovegrove’s subversion of the classic Fantasy tale. However, the staple of said Fantasy tale is adventure and Worldstorm provides it in spades – right down to the evil villain whose selfishness morphs into obsessive madness. The plot whips along at a clip, only slowing for Ayn’s narration to Khollo – which is just fine. Ayn is a wonderful character whose moods ranging from complacent smugness to grumpy annoyance leap off the page.

Any niggles? Well, when Lovegrove switches viewpoint several times, he reprises some of the events in the new point of view. Given that he’s already successfully established the characters along with their differences and conflict points, all this serves to do is silt up the narrative pace and undermine the importance of the one or two occasions when this ploy is actually necessary near the end of the book.

Apart from that, this book is an utter joy. Lovegrove is an intelligent, perceptive writer who delivers a cracking adventure, and (mostly) assumes that his readership can cope without having all the dots joined up. My one sorrow is that this is a stand-alone book as the world is a wonderful one with so much further potential.
9/10

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