The product of a 2013 Kickstarter, Mechalarum is Emma Larkins debut work and has clearly benefited from her efforts to crowd fund. The process has allowed her creative control and enabled her to seek professional assistance in assuring the work comes up to scratch.
And come up to scratch it does, with a fetching cover and intriguing blurb. The initial reading is no let down either, beginning at a good pace with a tight and consistent viewpoint style. The idea of flying freely in a skin-tight suit appeals to everyone, we’ve all had those dreams haven’t we? And woken up disappointed that we weren’t really soaring over the heads of our friends and neighbours at will.
Larkins makes this dream a central element of her story straight away. We move through a pacey action sequence and get to know our principle character, Kiellen Corr, cadet Mechalarum flyer, who is training as a combat pilot of a flight suit that will become the principle weapon of her people in a war against the Losh.
Perhaps a little wordage devoted to the sheer joy of being able to fly would give us a better connection to Kiellen before we begin experiencing her brattish tendencies. A risk taking and rebellious sort, she quickly falls foul of the Citadel authorities, making you wonder a bit about how she lasted so long.
A strength of the story is the in the attention to detail paid to the dialogue. We have a whole set of invented colloquial terms for items, actions and swearing, which is used with confidence and care. Even if the word is unfamiliar, you never misunderstand it or get the sense it won’t be explained.
Plotting is an occasional weakness of the book. A few contrivances and coincidences do feel convenient at times. The teenage squabbles of the characters are a little reminiscent of Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance books, something as a reader I didn’t pick up as a fourteen year old, but that becomes clearly noticeable on a re-read later in life. The typical fantasy genre taboo of sex and relationships is challenged at several points but not really dealt with, although both issues are possibly in keeping with the closeted lives Gage and Kiellen have led.
The principle characters certainly have personality and come across as believeable, if a little annoying at times. At each stage of crisis, their relationship tends to play out the same way, with Gage arguing but submitting to his headstrong friend’s demands and this undermines him in the eyes of the reader. Similarly Kiellen’s stubborn desire to keep wearing the suit might be better understood if she communicated more of her love for flying, as mentioned earlier. This does come over later in the book, but it’s absent for a long time.
A common problem for debut novelists is getting bogged down in trying to tell too much of the story or spending too much wordage on characters reflecting on their choices. Mechalarum doesn’t suffer from this at all. The read is well paced and meticulously written without a hint of stodge and angsty reflection is kept to a minimum. Each chapter brings with it a fresh revelation and there’s a clear sense that Larkins doesn’t want you to put the book down. The story is preceded by a little ‘newscast’ that reports events, which to begin with is a nice change of style, but as the book continues, you do begin to wonder where the presenters are managing to get their information from. These inserts also seem at odds with the scale of the writing. We are following specific events about individuals, but the newscast seems to be painting them in celebrity colours.
The story shifts through the gears towards its ending, raising a few questions over the characters’ choices as it takes us there. We arrive with a lot more understanding of Larkin’s futuristic world of mechatech, genetics and the true political/conflict situation. There’s a setup up for a sequel too, which I’m sure would be welcomed as there’s much more to explore and a lot to like from the story so far.
Mechalarum makes for a good young adult novel and strong debut from Emma Larkins. It’ll be interesting to see what she writes next. Publishers and agents should take note and remember the name.
Written on 5th April 2015 by Allen Stroud.
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