[First, sickness an announcement: this is my hundredth book review over here! I’m not sure that actually means anything, but a hundred! That’s a big round number! Whee! –S.]
A week and a half ago, I reviewed the first book in what will be a trilogy by Alma Alexander, a woman who’s had an interesting residential history. She also has two of the most adorable cats I’ve seen, and I’m not just saying that because her tuxedo cat looks almost exactly like my tuxedo cat. (Mine is approximately twice the size of hers, though.) This review is (obviously) of book 2; book 3, I believe, will be published in 2009.
Thea Winthrop is a Double Seventh: the seventh child of two seventh children. Unfortunately, for the first fourteen years of her life, she was a magidim: no magical abilities. All that changed in the first book of this series; in order not to give things away, I’m cutting all further plot discussion. In any case, after her parents went through some extreme measures in book 1, she has discovered that she has very strong magical powers. They just happen to be unique: she can weave worlds, using a computer. Computers are generally magically inert, though, and when someone starts sending practical-joke type spells through fake unsolicited commerical email (the ‘spellspam’ of the book’s title), no one is quite sure how it’s happening. They suspect Thea, though, because of her magical abilities with computers and some suspicious timing. Can Thea prove her innocence?
This book, rather like the last one, employs two disparate settings, but they are both in the same time period this time. The first section of the book takes place at the Wandless Academy, again, but the second half takes place at an Elemental House, owned by Professor Sebastian de los Reyes. He is in possession of three(ish) children, each very interesting, but in this novel we only have the chance to explore the story of one (or two) of them. I have a feeling, though, that we’ll see more of Larry/Lorenzo in the future, and there’s even a chance that Isabella will make another appearance. Each of these characters — plus the professor himself — is interesting enough to have his or her own novel, I felt, or at least a good part in a future work. (Maybe a short story?)
I thought the spellspams were quite ingenious. The first one, which gave the reader clear skin — as in transparent — was possibly the most clever, but later spells did all sorts of crazy things including infecting people with xenophobia. (“How do you cure xenophobia?” Thea asks rhetorically at one point.) I’m sure Ms. Alexander had a lot of fun coming up with the names and email addresses for the spellspammers, which included such jokes as “Miss D. Wreck-Shunn” and “Steph Happens.” Naturally, I appreciated the latter.
We find out a lot more information, in this book, about Thea’s abilities as a worldweaver. Whereas in the first book what she was doing was as new to us as it was to her, in this volume she has figured out some things about how it works and how she is able to weave using a computer. More importantly, she is able to explain these things to other people, and therefore make them clearer to us. While a lesser author might have dropped the ball on that one, I’m glad that Ms. Alexander made sure that her magic was so thoroughly comprehensible — and comprehensible to the reader.
I’ve always loved the speculative fiction idea of creating a world with something strange about it (such as magically inert computers) and finding out what happens when this core belief of the society goes funny somehow. It’s always interesting to see how a society reacts when it is turned upon its ear, and Thea and her society have firmly been turned upon their ears. In addition, Ms. Alexander has set up a great overarching plot about creation and creativity and dreams, and I much await the third volume in order to see how that will be resolved. I do not think that a reader would enjoy book 2 nearly as much without reading book 1, but I do recommend them both. 4.5/5 stars for this volume.