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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Karl Schroeder's first book, written with David Nickle, was The Claus Effect, a wickedly hilarious novel based on their Aurora Award-winning short story "The Toy Mill." Reviewers called it the best first fantasy of 1998. Now Schroeder has released his first solo novel, and it is superb.
Jordan Mason is a bright, honest, hardworking lad who maintains the wall of the manor house of Salt Inspector Castle. In the feudal society of the planet Ventus, he cannot expect to climb any higher on the social ladder. When, one day, he has a full sensory hallucination of horses, grasslands, and clashing armies, he assumes he is prone to the visions that some people have, visions perhaps granted by the gods called "Winds." Then Jordan is kidnapped by the mysterious and powerful Lady Calandria May, and he sets out into a world full of noble quarrels, galloping horses and sword fights, a mad queen at war with the general who loves her desperately, apparently magical doors operated by cryptical codes, and a destiny he could never have dreamed.
But this is no ordinary epic fantasy. The stones Jordan works with are filled with "mecha" life, and the terrifying Heaven Hooks that scourge the land to wrest mortals from their lives are not supernatural, as common folk believe. Jordan will learn that the Winds themselves are Artificial Intelligences, and that his "visions" are actually real-time experiences transmitted from an AI -- masquerading as a human, Armiger -- who has sinister plans for the fate of Ventus.
As Jordan journeys across the dangerous and war-torn land, he discovers that the relationship between Ventus and its Winds is not merely one of etymology; in fact, the history of his planet and its culture is a palimpsest scrawled with superstitions and lies to cover ancient and bitter truths. He will find friends to help him seek Armiger, but soon humans, AIs, even the nanolife embedded in every particle of the planet seek him, too, for the meaning of his visions endangers not only his society but the ecological balance of his world -- and a galactic war whose origins lie in the forming of Ventus itself.
Schroeder's prose is delightful -- enchantingly beautiful in descriptions of the countryside Jordan travels across (and sometimes under, and sometimes over), and his dialogue is witty and wise. His characters, even the villains, are unforgettably drawn with great sympathy. Reviewers have already compared Ventus to the works of Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, and Arthur C. Clarke. Schroeder's Ventus is not merely a wonderful, ambitious debut. It is the finest science fiction novel of the year 2000.
Fiona Kelleghan is a librarian at the University of Miami. Book reviews editor for Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, she has written reviews and articles for Science-Fiction Studies; Extrapolation; The New York Review of Science Fiction; Science Fiction Research Association Review; Nova Express; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers; Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature; Neil Barron's Fantasy and Horror: A Critical and Historical Guide; Contemporary Novelists: 7th Edition; and American Women Writers. Her book Mike Resnick: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide to His Work was published by Alexander Books in 2000.