For all the tensions of its teen relationships, deadly attacks, bursts of mind control power, glimpses of futures that must not be, and legitimately galaxy-spanning stakes, Blue Spell is written with a welcome lightness of touch, the big ideas balanced out by a love of pulp adventure. Harvey seems to relish upending expectations, as when the first book’s villain, whose possible survival is subject of much speculation and discussion in the novel’s first third, appears with a jolt, absconds with Jack’s wand, and leaves the heroes reeling. His eventual plan, teased out a piece at a time, is devastating, drawing smartly on all that complex tech and magic.
That first third, however, is slower paced than the exciting but demandingly long book that follows, concerned with rebuilding and survival “After Newton,” the devastating, long-predicted events that drove the first book. (New readers should start with book one.) Things here really pick up once Pieter is in Jack’s head, scheming away, and young hero Sarah is back in his orbit, bringing heart, wit, and a pleasing dash of romance.
Takeaway: Epic teen SF adventure of wormholes, satellites, dragons, and friendship.
Comparable Titles: Dennis Meredith’s Wormholes, Nick Lake’s Satellite.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
In Broken Sky, John Harvey introduced us to Jack Scatter and the race to save the world as the date of Isaac Newton's predicted apocalypse nears. In Blue Spell, Harvey returns to this near-future setting in post-Newton time. Pieter Reynard is out there, whether on Earth or Cirrus is unknown, and he's not happy with Jack and his friends. In pre-Newton days, the authorities might have been able to track Reynard through Little Brother's surveillance cameras. Now, Earth and Cirrus are effectively cut off from each other and the usual surveillance network no longer works. The crystals that allow for wormhole-based "portal" technology have been destroyed. Luckily, Jack Scatter's grandfather has saved some working portals, and Jack can start exploring his unique "powers" as a Traveller.
Harvey's second novel, Blue Spell builds on the skills he displayed in his debut. I thought that the pacing of this one was better, the characters grew and blossomed naturally, and the world retained its sheer coolness. Harvey has a clear understanding of the portal technology he's created in his world, and you can tell that he has thought through all its implications.
If I have one significant critique of Harvey's writing, it's that he might even go a bit too in-depth with the details. That's often indicative of an author who worries that their readers won't completely believe in the world they've created. I very much enjoyed most of the exposition and explanation that Harvey gives us, but the details of portal tech (or intricate plans to escape the baddies) occasionally run on and detract from the flow of the narrative.
That said, Blue Spell usually clips along. There are several cool moments played to perfection, even an intriguing car chase that uses portal technology for some awesome, cinematic choreography. I won't say whether the book ends with the good guys or the bad guys winning, but I will say that it ends satisfyingly. I never felt like Harvey tried to dodge any consequences or that he relied on deus ex machina devices to get him out of jams. Instead, the character development and plot lines were allowed to run their courses and go where they wanted to go.
If you're a fan of sci-fi at all, or if you like detailed world-building and fast-paced action, you've gotta check out The Chronicles of Cirrus immediately.