by James V. Viscosi
4 stars - fantasy fiction for grownups
ALR Green - a few animal characters in very brief scenes
First, a disclaimer. I am acquainted with the author via the Internet. We share a love of dogs and are both members of an online dog lovers community. In fact that is how I came to read two of his other novels, A Flock of Crows is Called a Murder (liked) and Dragon Stones (did not like).
Shards follows the adventures of two teenagers, Mercedes and Bernard, who find themselves literally sucked in to the world of a computer fantasy game. There they take on the characters they've created and go on a quest to recover some precious, magical stones. Ho hum, right? Well, no.
This is a fantasy novel for grownups. It's subtle, humorous, plausible (if you go along with the whole elves and magical stones thing). Mr. Viscosi has a gift for depicting settings and landscapes. His descriptions of the world that Mercedes and Bernard find themselves in are lyrical.
All of the characters we meet are very "human" and multi-faceted. While there are some minor characters who are really only there to move the plot along, they are also drawn in a way so that their motivations are well understood. In fact, the scenes in the story also stand by themselves and there is something wonderful going on here. Because life isn't black and white and each scene in our lives typically contains things which are important, bizarre, and sometimes humorous. For example, while local leaders are discussing the possibility of spies doing harm to the realm, they are also attempting to supervise the bumbling efforts of the local constabulary to fish a fallen fellow (deceased) out of the river. Tension and strategy side by side with some dark humor. I'm all for that.
Mr. Viscosi moves things along at a swift pace. No time for mushy stuff or any prolonged philosophical reflection. That's good too.
The nutty (and possibly evil) dwarfs steal the show with their steam punk underground habitat and multi-colored skin. They are gruff, smart (but not clever), and unintentionally (to them) funny.
I'm no fan of teenagers. Bear with Mercedes and Bernard through the first section of the book. Once they arrive in elf land, it's easy to recast them as adults if that works for you.
Now then, I have two nits, OK, three.
- The cover art. Ugh. It screams "book for teen aged boys who have no life outside of their video games."
- The tightly spaced font and small margins (in fact I gave up trying to read pages 16-17 because, come on, these eyes aren't what they used to be).
- The ending. Let's just say, if you are halfway through the book and you are enjoying it, better go out and find its companion, Ravels, like, now.