Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Review | Roil - Trent Jamieson

Not just touching on the steampunk aesthetic, but diving into the subgenre itself, Roil is an interesting tale of a world on the edge. Like Mark C. Newton's Legends of the Red Sun sequence, Roil could convincingly be described as transformative fantasy: although there are tantalising hints otherwise, the titular Roil may well be a natural phenomenon, which humanity is struggling against.

Roil is set on the land, or world, of Shale - one threatened by the aforementioned region. The Roil is an uncontrollably spreading environment: hosting its own temperature (hotter), spores, creatures, and even mind - or minds. As I mentioned, it's more than a little mysterious. And as the first novel of a series, Roil raises more questions than it answers - what else do you expect? The Roil has consumed many of the human cities, but at last, there seems to be a hint at a solution: the I-bombs. Developed by the Penn family, these seem capable of reclaiming entire regions of the Roil - but just as they are successfully tested, the Roil claims the city, leaving only the Penns' daughter, Margaret. And with no blueprints... David, meanwhile, is an addict to a fantastical drug: Carnival. When his father is murdered by his political opponents, David is rescued by Cadell, a man who is older than he seems. If we trust his word, 4000 years older... And both, driven by both the encroaching Roil and the manipulative Stade, find themselves embroiled in humanity's truggle against the titular advance, and Cadell's hints at a solution.

Shale gets a great deal of credit, here, for an imaginative design. And some very superior worldbuilding. The Roil is a convincingly overpowering threat - how do you stop an environment which spreads itself with heat and spores? As it turns out, cold. Humanity has turned to endothermic weapons to harm the Roil's creations: ice walls, guns firing cold, and even temperature-reducing pills. The rest of the technology is similarly fun: Aerokin, semi-biological (and living) airships, for one! As my mantra goes, who doesn't love airships? This is a thoroughly alien world - imaginatively built, and a joy to explore.

While I enjoyed Cadell's point that David was not a 'chosen one' - because the world simply doesn't work that way - I can't help feeling that as a protagonist, he had similar problems to those chosen by destiny in some way. in a word? Passivity. As a character, Devid is not proactive. His behaviour is largely responsive through the novel, and though he does experience development - growing from a fixated addict to someone genuinely capable of some rather awesome achievements (which I'll keep quiet about) - he is always driven by the plot, not the other way around. Cadell might be a mentor character, but he's by far the more interesting of the pair. By contrast, Margaret Penn is a more proactive character - but gets a far lesser role.

Roil is, however, an interesting read. As the first book of a series, it hints at some tantalising future revelations: sentient weapons, the plans of the Roil, and secret histories - and its sequel would be worth reading just for that. Nevertheless, there's more to this novel than simply worldbuilding: some of the later action scenes are spectacular (and the second half of the novel is superior as a whole), David develops considerably and should be of far more merit as protagonist in the following book, and the Roil is a genuinely interesting opponent: an environment. I would recommend Roil, despite a passive main protagonist, but with caveats: if you want resolution rather than hints, wait for a sequel - and be prepared to read through a slow start before the action gets going.

Find it here: UK US

And my new article's up on Fantasy Faction, where I'm a staff member: this time, on novellas, and why they're coming back.