Sunday, May 19, 2013

Battle of the Books, Bracket Six, First Round :: London Eye by Tim Lebbon vs. WorldSoul by Liz Williams

Here at the Fantastic Reviews Battle of the Books, we've had a tenday's delay, as I focused on completing a story of my own instead of reading work by accomplished writers. (I'll let you know when the story appears in Asimov's——of course, Sheila Williams will have to buy it first, but gosh, how could she not?)

With that disruption behind us, we enter the bottom half of Bracket Six of the Battle of the Books with London Eye (Toxic City Book One) by Tim Lebbon versus WorldSoul by Liz Williams. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

London Eye: Pyr hardcover, October 2012, 228 pages, cover art by Steve Stone. London Eye is the first volume of Lebbon's Toxic City young adult series. Tim Lebbon is a successful author of horror and fantasy, with some three dozen books to his name (about two dozen novels, a half-dozen collections, and a half-dozen tie-in books). Lebbon has won the Bram Stoker Award and is a four-time British Fantasy Award winner, including for his novel Dusk. He has also been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, among many other honors.

London Eye takes place in England, two years after the release of a devastating biological agent in London, beginning at the London Eye Ferris wheel. The government has declared it a terrorist attack and quarantined the city, but our young characters——particularly Jack and Lucy-Anne, who are boyfriend and girlfriend but starting to drift apart——believe there is more to it, that there are survivors in London who have developed remarkable, strange abilities. By the end of 25 pages, they meet one of those survivors, and Jack learns that his mother, believed lost in the attack, may still be alive in London.

WorldSoul: Prime trade paperback, June 2012, 311 pages, cover art by Oliver Wetter. WorldSoul is a fantasy novel in which the magic involves lots of books. (Another example of this will be in an upcoming bracket of the Battle of the Books, Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines. So we have a new subgenre, which I hereby christen "bookpunk.") By my count, Liz Williams has published fourteen novels and two collections of short fiction. Her work includes multiple varieties of science fiction and fantasy, including the five-volume Inspector Chen series of fantasy/mysteries, beginning with Snake Agent. She has been shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the British SF Award, and others.

The protagonist of WorldSoul is Mercy Fane, a librarian in a strange vast library. The library apparently includes volumes from across space and time; for instance, the prologue shows us that most of the Alexandria Library was not really lost in the fire. In the opening chapters, Mercy selects a weapon and heads into Section C of the library, where something is amiss. Meanwhile, a pair of other magical characters plan incursions into the library.

The Battle: This is a first-round battle between two top-flight British authors.

London Eye is setting up a series about people with superpowers, a subgenre that doesn't much appeal to me. But Lebbon does such a solid job with the opening sequence that he has interested me in the book despite myself.

His teenaged characters are likeable and resourceful but believable. Lebbon establishes the uncertain relationship between Jack and Lucy-Anne nicely. And with an impeccable sense of timing, Lebbon ends his first 25 pages with Jack learning that his mother may yet be alive, setting the stage for our young characters to make an incursion into the derelict city of London, which I would like to see.

Conversely, as a book lover and collector, I was very interested by the book-centric premise of WorldSoul, but the first 25 pages didn't pull me in as much as I hoped.

The problem for me is that Williams is too cryptic through her opening about what's going on here. I know there is a vast library. I know some of the characters can do some sort of magic. That's about all I know after 25 pages. I have no idea so far as to the significance of this library or what's at stake in the story. I've read enough by Liz Williams to be confident the tale will gain more interest as it goes along, but the Battle of the Books tends to punish books that start a bit slowly.

THE WINNER: London Eye by Tim Lebbon

London Eye advances to the second round, to take on either Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey or Blood of the City by Robin D. Laws.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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