Sunday, July 29, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, First Round :: Fair Coin by E.C. Myers vs. The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

The second matchup of the Summer Bracket of the 2012 Battle of the Books has Fair Coin by E.C. Myers going against The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis. Per our contest rules, I have read the first 25 pages of both, and the winner will be the book I most want to continue reading.

Fair Coin: Pyr Books, April 2012, 285 pages, cover illustration by Sam Weber. Fair Coin is a YA contemporary fantasy set in the Eastern USA. Fair Coin is Myers' first novel. The first 25 pages cover a little more than three chapters.

Teenager Ephraim Scott comes home to find his mother passed out from vodka and pills. He calls 911. She thought Ephraim was dead, hit by a bus. The boy that died had Ephraim’s lost library card in his wallet.

At the hospital, Ephraim finds a plastic bag containing the dead boy’s stuff. The wallet, keys, and watch seem oddly similar to Ephraim’s, but there are some peculiar items, including a US commemorative quarter minted in the wrong year.

The next morning Ephraim goes straight from the hospital to his high school. The girl Ephraim has a crush on, Jena, spooks Ephraim by returning his library card. Now he has two identical library cards. Ephraim finds a note that appears to be in his best friend Nathan’s handwriting, although Nathan says he didn’t write it. The note reads “Make a wish and flip the coin to make it come true”. Ephraim flips the odd commemorative quarter and wishes his mom wasn’t in the hospital. Later, when Ephraim goes to the hospital, his mom isn’t there, and she wasn’t there last night either. It seems that Ephraim’s wish changed reality.

The Coldest War: Tor Books, July 2012, 251 pages, volume two of The Milkwood Triptych, cover art by Chris McGrath. The Coldest War is a fantasy / alternate history book. It’s the sequel to Bitter Seeds, which I haven’t read. The setting is a 1963 in which the Soviets control the European continent. Apparently WWII was fought secretly by British warlocks and a small group of Nazis with superhuman abilities powered by special batteries. The first 25 pages contain a prologue and about half of chapter one.

The prologue contains two incidents in England. In the first, a man, who I guess is a Soviet agent, pays a deadly visit on an elderly British warlock. In the other, a junkman, who is a German secretly living in Britain, is trying to reverse engineer a battery to allow him to access his former superhuman abilities.

In the first section of chapter one, Germans Gretel and Klaus are in a Russian gulag. They stole one of the batteries confiscated by the Russians at the end of WWII. Both Gretel and Klaus can use the Götterelektron and learned the Willenskräfte. Klaus uses the battery to dematerialize. Gretel can somehow see the future and plan accordingly. When the prison guards are drunk on homemade vodka, they make their escape. They hope to make it to the Paris Wall.

In the second partial section of chapter one, Lord William Beauclerk (Will) and his wife Gwendolyn are having dinner in London with his older brother, Aubrey, the Duke of Aelred and his Aubrey’s wife Viola. Apparently Will is haunted by classified things he did during the war. There was a Great European Famine of ’42 which was secretly caused by British Warlocks.

The Battle: The Coldest War is set in an alternate world. In Fair Coin alternate universes seem involved. Weirdly, someone getting drunk on vodka plays a part in both books.

I’d be happy to continue reading either of these books. Both are readable and interesting. Unfortunately, Battle of the Books forces me to chose only one.

In my opinion, Fair Coin accomplishes more in character development. I can feel for the characters emotionally. Ephraim is a likeable teenager. There are several nice SF references in Fair Coin, such as Ephraim finding in the dead boy’s wallet a ticket stub for the movie Neuromancer. I’m interested in where the story will go.

On the other hand, I think that The Coldest War is better, more sharply, written. The scenes contain memorable, sometimes creepy, details. But I don’t feel I know the characters quite yet. There’s a load of information, and a feeling of stepping into the middle of a story, as this is book two in a series. I assume there’ll be some Cold War-like conflict.

This is a very close book battle, and my decision could have easily gone either way. My verdict came down to: What haven’t I seen before? Even though I love the concept of alternate realities, where Fair Coin seems to be heading, I’ve read a variety of such tales. The same goes for magical wishes. Superhumans powered by batteries, that to me seems strange and different.


The Coldest War will advance to meet Faith by John Love in the second round.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

No comments: