- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Ace (TRD); 1 edition (July 20 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0441013422
- ISBN-13: 978-0441013425
- Product Dimensions: 15.1 x 2.5 x 22.7 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,509,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
House Of Storms Paperback – Jul 20 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In MacLeod's brilliant The Light Ages (2003), the discovery of a substance called aether revolutionized technology, ushering in a Victorian age radically different from our own. Now, a century later, the Age of Light has come to an end in this more tightly plotted sequel. Alice Meynell, Greatgrandmistress of the Guild of Telegraphers, is willing to commit murder to establish her own power and assure the future of her tubercular son, Ralph. To save his life, she makes a deal with the Chosen, magical beings so warped by aether that they can no longer live in human society. As Ralph's health improves, however, he falls in love with Marion Price, a servant girl who eventually bears his child. Alice, acting in what she believes is Ralph's best interests, forces them to separate, secretly sending the baby to live with the Chosen. Years pass, civil war breaks out, and Alice, Ralph and Marion pursue their varied destinies. Full of detailed descriptions of landscapes and complex human feelings, this rich, leisurely novel bears some similarities to the more frenetic fiction of China Miéville, though the author's affinity to A.S. Byatt is even stronger. This is a major work by a master writing at the top of his form.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The successor to the superb Light Ages (2003) depicts MacLeod's alternate Victorian society as more advanced technologically but with magic still strong in it. Alice Meynell, greatmistress of the Telegraphers' Guild, is about ready to turn to magic to save her son and heir, Ralph, from consumption, for all medical remedies have failed. She hopes that the sea air at Invercombe on the west coast of England will help, and she puts even more hope in the magic that may still linger there, centered around a community of changelings. One of those changelings once loved Alice, and a bargain is struck so that Ralph regains health. Consequently, Alice regains the hope of a dynasty. But then Ralph falls in love with a servant girl, and that so threatens his mother's plans that she sets in motion powerful countermagic that in turn threatens the basis of society. MacLeod has again imagined and written superbly, and be it noted that his erotic scenes should be the envy of many of his professional peers. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
The book is split into two parts, dealing with Ralph's youth and relationship with Marion, and years later the final stages of the war enveloping the East and West of Ian MacLeod's fictional Britain. I felt that the first half of the story was the stronger of the two as there was more development of the characters and better dialogue. The second half was more disjointed and lacked some of the charm of the first half.
It may be my lack of a British perspective but alot of the social themes were not clear to me. As with Light Ages, the overarching message was that despite changes the status quo stays the same. Perhaps someone with more experience with the British class system will take more away from the novel. That said, the story stands on its own and is an enjoyable if slightly overlong read.
As a final note, magic or aether as it is referred to in the novel plays a central role here as it did in The Light Ages and is creatively integrated into the storyline.
I recently read McLeod's "The Light Ages" and was . . . not overly impressed by it. I didn't hate it but I didn't find it as exciting as perhaps I should have. In doing the review for that novel I noticed that he had written a sequel to it and while I normally like reading follow ups from authors to see if their styles change or develop with time, being my response to "The Light Ages" was so tepid I figured I'd never have any reason to see anything else by McLeod, or if by some weird chance I did it was probably so far buried in my piles that I wouldn't get to it for years and I could get back to reviewing what people really want me to write at great length about . . . giant foreign novels from the perspective of someone completely lacking in any critical insight or background of the country's literature he's writing about.
Fortunately we can thank my twenty-something's self's habit of stacking books in piles so close together that I can't see what's coming until I'm literally on top of it. Thus I learned that I had apparently bought the sequel to "The Light Ages" not long after the first book (in hardcover no less! I'm so extravagant). Needless to say, the prospect didn't quite fill me with giddy anticipation as I prepared myself to buckle in for another round of weirdly fantasyless fantasy along with a plot that almost completely wastes the prose talents of the person writing it. I guess I could have skipped it and moved onto something I was slightly more enthusiastic about but if you thought that was a real option then you clearly don't know me very well.
But as it turns out its like McLeod read my review and went back in time to warn his past self what my complaints would be and did his best to fix them in the sequel. Set in the same setting as "The Light Ages" but maybe about a hundred years later (other than some new technology it doesn't seem that much different but does allow him to jettison the cast of that novel, which was probably the first big benefit) we follow the travails of greatgrandguildmistress Alice Meynell, who has come from a less than illustrious background but done what all people in Dickens' novels everywhere have done . . . climb up the social ladder like a hyperactive firefighter and then use that newfound prestige to eradicate all references to her past life, all the while consolidating her position like a toddler constantly telling you "Mine!", even when it comes to the clothes you're wearing. It doesn't hurt that we find out fairly soon that Alice for one reason or another is a complete sociopath and probably would have fit in quite well in an alternate universe "The Talented Mrs Ripley".
She's come out to the west of England, Invercombe specifically, with her very sick son Ralph in the hopes that the sea air or medicine based around hope and amputations or even vague magical means might cure him (he seems to have a very tough version of tuberculosis, although it seems to give him lungs worse than a coal miners) and before long we find out its the third option (huzzah!) which happens just in time for him to meet the fetching daughter of one of the local working class families that's been given a job as the hired help. Cue a couple scenes of learning about the joys of walking barefoot on the beach and its pretty clear love is in the air. But will Mother Dearest go for it?
I don't think it will come as a surprise that for Madame Ambition the answer is a most definite "no" but what I find interesting is that the book doesn't make that the sole focus. Unlike the first book where the working class versus the upper class conflict was kind of hammered in our face along with the "this is a society about to change!" theme that didn't at times seem to be very obvious, this time out he chooses to focus more on the characters and allow the world to sort of adjust to them. And he has better characters this time out. Alice is delightful as a woman pretty much willing to do anything to get her way (including straight up murder) and her obsession with maintaining her looks gives her a vibe somewhere between Dorian Grey without the painting and that lady who bathed in the blood of virgins to look young. Unfortunately for Alice, we know what happened to both those people and it didn't involve getting what they wanted so you can be fairly well assured that its not going to end in peaches and roses for her either.
But focusing on her desperately clawing antics gives us something to latch onto while the book lingers on the somewhat charming romance between the recovered Ralph and Marion Price, his lady love. McLeod writes smitten well and he captures the joy of young love as well as Ralph's reveling in not being sick anymore. The arc of their relationship takes up the first part of the book before real life gets in the way, though not before whittling down the cast with a couple more additions to the body count.
The second part of the book seems to be what throws everyone off and I can see their concerns even if it didn't bother me all that much. It jumps ahead a couple years into the midst of a war that has been sparked between East and West England that MacLeod attempts to create as a parallel with the American Civil War by injecting the notion of slavery into the mix as the cause. In the interim Ralph has become a reluctant general and Marion has become some kind of weird cross between Florence Nightingale and Joan of Arc, with her name spread throughout the land as legendary and used as a rallying cry.
I didn't mind these parts as much, maybe because my deadened soul enjoys reading about the ravages of fantasy war or because MacLeod has gotten me so swept up in events I didn't care as much that he didn't explore some of his own themes (bringing in slavery as a concern was probably a mistake because its a heavy enough theme to take over the novel and if it doesn't it can feel like you're blowing it off). He becomes a bit more inventive with the magic this time out, as war does what wars always do, which is make everyone needlessly destructive in increasingly creative ways. So while in the first part you mostly had magic telephones here you have magical creatures and other weapons, giving you the Civil War by way of World War One.
I still think it tries to hit too many targets at once, between the romance (and the possible fruits of that romance) and the crazy murder mom and the war and slavery and Mighty Nurse and theories of evolution and let's not forget the strange results of too much exposure to the aether that powers magic (though two books in and I'm still not entirely sure how magic works in this world . . . wasn't it running out in the last book, or has it been replaced with the magic of electricity now?) running around as well and you have a mix that should be a complete mess. And it nearly is, only salvaged by MacLeod's still amazingly good prose (he's immersive without being showy and able to conjure a mood without going overboard for the most part) and characters that I actually give a crap about this time. Stripped of the literally dour pixie dreamgirl plot that I felt hamstrung the last book, we're given people who at least feel like actual people (and in the case of a Alice, a genuine psychopath). Even if I don't totally buy Marion's conversion into The Nurse to End All Nurses, I still had an affection for the character herself, her losses and desires. The romance feels much more grounded this time, and its absence from the later portions of the book give it a welcome melancholy that feels utterly British. When Ralph and Marion run into each other at a later point, there's a palpable ache and regret in the meeting, the weight of all that's gone before weighed against a memory of what they once had.
All that more than balances out the stuff that didn't quite work with me. The changeling stuff was odd but I don't feel quite as unearthly as MacLeod wanted it to be and I'm still not sold on how radically magic has transformed his world (when its even in evidence). But he crafts far better characters this time out and as their little dramas play out across the book, from the Price family, to the weird Alice-Ralph-Marion triangle, to the people they all meet later, even the staff of the castle dreaming of retiring to better places, and the quiet pulse of their lives more than makes up for what the plot doesn't cover since it gives you a better sense of a world in flux than any history book will, in all its confusion and pain (I can never tell who's winning the war at any given moment) and scarce, bright joys, but mostly in conveying what the slow erosion of time does to these people, making them older and maybe wiser in the raw, exposed places. Its history that interests them, but not the possibilities of a hundred years from now borne by people they'll never meet but the history of ourselves we try to directly launch in those we have following us, that we see grow for as long as we can before pushing them away from the shore into the dark waters and out of sight, leaving us standing at the beach listening to the waves and hoping that it'll eventually turn out okay, even if we'll never really know.
"The House of Storms" is set about 100 years after the end of "The Light Ages" and can be read independently. Greatgrandmistress Alice Meynell of the Guild of Telegraphers, one of the most powerful women in the country, is desperately trying to find a cure for her son Ralph's consumptive disease. In their travels, they end up at Invercombe, an ancient mansion with an aether-powered "weathertop" that can be used to manipulate the weather, making it a great place to convalesce for Ralph. As Ralph heals and resumes normal life in the more rural Invercombe area, he finds that he may not want to follow in the footsteps of his mother.
One of the most interesting aspects of this wonderful novel is the way society has evolved with the discovery of new technological advancements such as electricity and the telephone (which might make aether less valuable and important). In addition, colonization has begun and, with it, slavery becomes an issue. London is very much the center of the guilds and the old powers, where cities in the west are moving away from this. While the novel is definitely a character-driven story, McLeod also does a wonderful job in making England, on the brink of a civil war and in the middle of economic decline, become a very tangible place for the reader.
Strong characterization, a unique and interesting setting, and to top it all off, some of the loveliest prose you can find in the genre. The second part of the novel (dealing with the civil war) is considerably slower than the first part, but over all this is still a highly recommended novel.