By Brandon Hill
Special to InReview
It’s been quite a journey — a thing I don’t say lightly about just any book series — since I wrote my first review of the opening three-book set of The Starsea Cycle, a grand sci-fi and fantasy blended epic brought forth by the talented hand of Kyle West. And now that I have finished all eight books thus far printed at the time of this article, and am waiting with bated breath for book nine (slated to be released at summer’s end), I can now, at least for a moment, catch my breath and look back on this fascinating tale, while at the same time, sing its many praises.
Wizards in space.
It’s a pithy description that surprisingly sums up what The Starsea Cycle is all about. Taking place in the mid 24th century, after the discovery of mysterious interstellar gates left by a now-dead ancient civilization, humanity has spread to the stars under the aegis of the League of Worlds, and in the process, has had to contend with the sudden manifestation of abilities that can only be described as magic in certain individuals, coinciding with the discovery of the gates.
This quickly became Pandora’s box with the coming of the Swarmers, a mysterious and relentless alien enemy, and then the Mage War, a time when the renegade mages, led by the megalomaniacal Xara Mallis turned against humanity to build the empire of Starsea, but were thwarted by an alliance between the League and loyal mages. This, plus a decay and madness called the fraying that comes upon all who use magic, led to the current status quo. At the start of the series, on all league worlds, everyone must undergo mandatory testing for magical potential. If detected, they are sent to a mage academy, where they must learn to control their abilities. If they fail, they are sent to Psyche, a prison moon from which no mage has returned.
Lucian Abrontes is one such individual who discovers his magical potential. He is a young man in his early 20s, growing up in a low-rent area of Miami with no idea what to do with his life. Afflicted by mysterious dreams, his journey to the academy on the water world of Volsung introduces him to his potential and pits him with a choice that will determine an important part of his destiny.
His adventures afterward, to a dizzying array of worlds, center around a prophecy of the Chosen of the Manifold: the “light realm” parallel reality from which all reality — even magic — originate. Allied with rare loyal friends and loved ones and through many trials and betrayals, Lucian must embrace a destiny he never wanted in order to save humanity from the Swarmers, who have reappeared in far greater numbers, looking to finish what they started, as well as the subsequent rise of a new Starsea.
Such a description of things, thinking back on Lucian’s still incomplete journey, still seems overly succinct in my opinion, as the Starsea books present a journey of many detours and pathways, with visits to exotic, living worlds from the seas of Volsung to the fiery wastelands of Haephestus. It also has a vast array of characters, many of which are obsessed with power to the point where Lucian is betrayed time and time again in some of the most painful moments in the tale.
Starsea weaves a coming-of-age ordeal for the initially indecisive protagonist, who comes to truly cherish those whom he can call “friend,” from Emma, his fellow student at the academy, to Serah, a quick-witted frayed mage with little time left, and Fergus, a noble town guard captain with a past just as riddled with pain and betrayal as Lucian’s.
The phrase to keep in mind throughout it all, in fact, is “it’s never easy” and nothing is. Every victory and step of Lucian’s journey is hard-fought, and often at terrifying and heartbreaking risk. And his knowledge of his own growing magic come piecemeal as certain elements are revealed about the prophecy and the power of creation itself, which comes with times of learning and adjustment.
The rewards in seeing Lucian become every bit the “Chosen” by way of the Manifold makes this a fantastic journey for an interested reader. He faces alien monsters, bloodthirsty space pirates, religious cults, remnants of long-dead civilizations, and the most sinister elements of magekind,
The story begins in a somewhat slow-paced manner with “The Mages of Starsea,” which may be off-putting for readers who prefer a brisker read, but those with patience and a love for excellent storytelling, compelling characters, and an epic tale will bear through the establishment and setup of this world. In these eight volumes, it is explored from one end to the other in his quest.
As the journey progresses, excitement abounds as Lucian grows more powerful and becomes more accepting of the destiny that awaits him. He has thrilling victories, heartbreaking defeats and commits errors that nearly cost him everything. All the while, the dreaded Swarmers eat away at the league, giving a very real sense of urgency, like a draining hourglass towards the series’ two titanic conflagrations that will determine the future of humanity.
Even then, with the denouement of book eight, “The Siege of Earth,” it is not fully over, as Lucian, bearing the weight of his destiny, is faced with a task whose ultimate end does not seem like it is the way that things ought to go, as it would spell a dark fate for humanity in a much different way.
It has indeed been a magnificent ride, that I, as a sci-fi/fantasy aficionado, will never regret joining. With book 9 around the corner, it is a great time for discerning readers to pick up this well-written, engrossing epic that will no doubt hook them all the way through without any fear of burnout. Whether paperback, e-book, or audiobook, each volume is now available in these formats for ease and convenience. I would encourage any potential reader to follow Lucian and see just how exciting a story of “wizards in space” can be.
I highly recommend this series. I give it an 8 out of 10
Brandon Hill is the author of the Wild Space Saga and War of Millennium Night books. He is a native of Louisiana and an avid and frequent reader of science fiction and fantasy. Having had dreams of authorship since childhood, he began writing in the eleventh grade, and has since then, released 9 books, both self-published and released through various publishers. He sketches perhaps even more prolifically than he writes, and derives inspiration from his illustrations of fantastic worlds and characters. He hopes to continue sharing his ideas, characters, and stories with others for years to come. Click here for more of his book reviews, click here to go to his Amazon author page and click here and here to go to his Deviantart portfolios.
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