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The Book of Transformations by Mark Charan Newton

The Book of Transformations by Mark Charan Newton
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Book Name: The Book of Transformations
Author: Mark Charan Newton
Publisher(s): Tor
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: June 3, 2011

The Legends of the Red Sun series has been compared to the Book of the New Sun, and it’s not hard to see why. In both series, a dying red sun looms over the world, and a renaissance era society lives amongst the ruins of a far more advanced civilization. All around are relics of the past, many of which are still utlilised by the smarter and more savvy, but perhaps not to the original intentions for which they were designed. And both writers make imaginative leaps that can leave the reader dazed and confused. Mark Charan Newton though achieves far more in his series than simply imitating writers that have come before. Anyone who follows Newton’s excellent blog, follows him on Twitter @MarkCN, or likes him on Facebook will know he is an incredibly intelligent man who is very concerned with the social issues of the modern world, and this is evident in his stories.

Fantasy too often is a genre that almost deliberately refuses to acknowledge the realities of the modern world. Often fantasy is a nostalgic desire for a simpler time before the industrial revolution. In Lord of the Rings, the scouring of the shire is so significant because the hobbits are rejecting industrialization by fighting against it. Tolkien and his imitators wish to take us a on a flight of fancy where we can forget the realities of the modern world. Newton on the other hand wishes to get us to discuss and consider them, and his stories are his vehicle.

As Villjamur burns it’s hard not to remember the London riots of last year. Or as Newton describes the Emperor, his council, and the Inquisition and the growing dissatisfaction of the people of Caveside, it’s hard not think of the current Western governments and their failure to help the people they are supposed to be helping, as instead they look to line their own pockets and help each other. At one point, I could not help but think of The Battle of Orgreave as the armed forces of the Inquisition storm in and attack protesters from Caveside.

We also have the figure of Lan, a transgender character who caused so much discussion online. Some characters accept her as a woman, and respect and love the person she is, others see her as a freak and morally wrong. In a weaker writer the character of Lan could have been handled clumsily, and simply become a cipher. Newton though makes her a fully fleshed character with both strengths and flaws. While the book is driven forward by an ensemble cast, Lan probably gets more page time than any other. She is not here to make a clumsy social point, but instead is a well written character that the reader can really get into the mind of and understand her motives and desires. Probably the greatest compliment that I can pay Mark is that more often than not I forgot that she was a transgender character but instead just read her as a female character.

Social politics aside, where a novel ultimately fails or succeeds is on its success as a story, and yet again Mark has written a cracking story. A reader doesn’t need to have read City of Ruin or Nights of Villjamur to enjoy this novel. But the ending is definitely set up to lead directly to The Broken Isles, and the end brings into play the ending from City of Ruins (the events of this novel seem to actually be running concurrently alongside events from City of Ruins), so I would suggest you do read all three before the final volume, but in which order is up to you. By the end, though events have escalated and there is a promise of a magnificent conclusion to come. I do personally think that Mark does occasionally let characters and plotlines slip away or end abruptly as he cranks up the stakes. For example he sets up a potentially interesting protagonist called Shalev, who raises the fascinating question of whether her methods justify her goals, but then ends her plotline before he really had a chance to explore this. He is also rather uneven with his villains. The cultist Dartun is truly terrifying whilst the Emperor Urtica never seems more than a pantomime villain. I almost imagine him in brown robes enticing the other characters to embrace the dark side of the force.

The novel also works as Mark’s homage to comic book heroes. Our three knights are superheroes just like The Avengers, The X Men or the Justice League of America, just placed in a fantasy setting, and it’s a concept that works brilliantly well. In the comics and films of Batman, the villains escalate to match and hopefully surpass the Dark Knight. Here the defenders of the Boreal Archipelago have to escalate to match the threat that is invading them from another dimension. Rather sinisterly though they are actually created by the corrupt rulers of Villjamur as a force to keep the restless population in check. Who is watching the Watchmen indeed!

Once again, Mark Charan Newton has proven himself to be one of the most fascinating writers writing in the fantasy genre at the moment. Not content with simply writing straight forward escapist fantasy novels, Newton delivers another gripping volume in his high concept series which pushes and threatens to break through the boundaries of the fantasy genre.

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Rating: 8.7/10 (9 votes cast)
The Book of Transformations by Mark Charan Newton, 8.7 out of 10 based on 9 ratings
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One Comment

  1. AlmightyZael says:

    Good article!
    Something I hear time and time again about Newton’s work is that they resonate with issues in the real world, and you’ve given plenty of examples of the like.
    You’ve just given me a little extra fuel to start reading through the whole series (which I only just started yesterday). And, it’s good to know there’s another book on the way!
    Great work.

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