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The Light Ages (The Aether Universe #1)

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  973 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
World Fantasy award-winner Ian MacLeod creates an England that is recognisable yet entirely different in this novel of an Industrial Revolution fuelled by magic. He tells the story of an age through the eyes of one man and those he comes into contact with, and of things and people strange and wonderful.
Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 5th 2004 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2003)
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If this book had been a movie, I can imagine that the pitch session would have gone like this:

Writer: Think: Great Expectations meets Germinal!
Producer: Germa-what?
Writer: It's this French novel by …
Producer: Nobody's gonna wanna watch a French story. What are you? Crazy?
Writer: But with magic, you know, like Harry Potter! But it'll take place in the Victorian century, and instead of coal we'll have this magic called aether, and instead of coal pits, we'll have aether pits.
Producer: Now, yo
Marvin Marc
Jan 27, 2009 Marvin Marc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[grabbed from this site][return][return]This creation owes much to Charles Dickens. It also owes much to Mervyn Peake at least in a Gormenghastish way, but the writing is all McLeod. This is a sumptuous book, with a wonderful use of language. If you want a whiz-bang adventure story, well, sorry. This one won't do.[return][return]Robbie Brown was born in what we might think of as 1876 in England. But not our England. Note the day of the week he was born; Sixshiftday. As you read on, you find that ...more
Theres a revolution in this book, but it turns out you need to care about the past for it's shattering to have any emotional or narrative impact. When one character accuses the protagonosts of trying to destroy her world, it means nothing, as we never got to have any real sense of her world and why it would matter to her. This is odd, given the slow, slow start and generally langurous pace, but this is all concerned with the rather tedious childhood of the protagonist and manages to never get ac ...more
While comparisons to Pullman and Mieville are not off entirely off base for Macleod’s work of industrial fantasy it is a much slower paced but if you let it take its time it weaves a subtler and deadlier spell like its obvious model, Keith Robert’s Pavane(did Pullman also use this for a model?). Melancholy character and touches of the grotesque this novel details an alternative history were a 300 year industrial revolution(based on the substance aether) freezes progress leaving England in an ete ...more
In a way, this book reminded me of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, not in its subject matter but in the way the author approached hos work. This reads like good historical fiction, focused on a sort of alternative Victorian England. we see the same stultifying class structure, the horrible working conditions, and the awful, grinding poverty.

I suppose this could be classified as urban fantasy of a sort. In this alternative history, industry, indeeed the entire economy, is based
Oct 25, 2012 AJ rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was hard to really get into this book because despite being written fairly well and having an interesting setting, the entire thing pretty much read like an extended character sketch. Told from the first person point of view, it follows Robert Borrows all the way from his childhood to sometime in late middle age at the conclusion of the book.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like character-driven fiction and I have nothing wrong with first person narratives. This one just suffers from a bad case of
Simon Mcleish
Feb 13, 2013 Simon Mcleish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in April 2004.

The small number of books that I would consider my favourite serious fantasy novels (E.R. Eddison's Mistress of Mistresses, Michael Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time series, Jack Vance's Lyonesse, John Crowley's Little, Big) share one important quality - atmosphere. There are other novels with similar power that I don't actually like very much, notably China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, and at least one series that I suspect would
Apr 01, 2015 Eli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finishing this book was a bit like being hit by a truck. In the good way. The Light Ages has almost everything I love in a sf/f novel: a plot that drops me into the world and leaves it up to me to figure out what's going on; a mystery revealed piece by piece; social issues I didn't feel hit over the head with; opposing but equally "right" sides (no "these people are evil because the author said so"); a touch of romance...I could keep going on. There's a wee bit of aimlessness in the middle, but ...more
Ben Babcock
It’s a shame. I really enjoyed Journeys , but my first attempt at novel-length Ian R. MacLeod falls short.

The Light Ages takes place in an alternative England where the ability to manipulate aether has jumpstarted steam engine technology somewhat. Other technologies, like electricity, have fallen by the wayside as too unreliable. The result is a grittier, dirtier, more magical and more chaotic industrialized England.

My problems stem from the writing style. MacLeod doesn’t value the nature of th
Cécile C.
Jul 13, 2014 Cécile C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: steampunk
A beatiful, leisurly read on a revolution going wrong.

The world of this novel is based on magic. There are changelings, and trolls, and spells, and magical aether. Except that magic is just another resource, and it has shaped its own industrial revolution. Aether can be mined. Workers in factories make spells to create cheaper, more readily available objects. Trolls are subject to social exclusion, and locked away in asylums. In the middle of it, jobless workers organise in a new political forc
Apr 25, 2015 Kevin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I made it to page 132 out of 456 in The Light Ages.

Strike one was the very slow plot.
Strike two was the unwieldy prose that featured overly long sentences and too many commas.
Strike three was the lack of intrigue or anything that captivated me. I just didn't really care what happened next.

Maybe I missed out on something awesome. Hope not.
Mar 06, 2016 Rose rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book rates almost, but not quite, 4 stars, in my opinion. It's an atmospheric novel set in a gritty, mysterious, Industrial age England, very much in the tradition of a Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins novel, but with a more modern (and bleak) lens on inequality. It's an alternative world, where magic is an industrial resource, but the themes are universal--love, loss, etc. The pacing is leisurely, but effective, the writing/descriptions eloquent, and yet, I never felt totally invested in ...more
Sep 08, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating piece of steampunk literature I haven't read it in ages so my memory of the plot isn't great but definitely worth reading
Michael Underwood
Alternative history SF/F. I wasn't a huge fan of the style, but the story was solid and the ideas were great.
The England in this novel is reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ England, only with a twist: aether, a magical substance that transformed English society. Aether is almost like a magical glue in that it holds things together that would otherwise come apart, which is both good and bad when it is the major component of most of England’s infrastructure, as it short-circuits progress: why search for ways to improve things when you can just fix them with aether? Aether must be mined and used in combinati ...more
Dec 12, 2009 D.w. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Others are reviewing this book as Dickensian. I find that wrong as Dickens writing style is different to me. I get caught up in Dickens with the minutiae of characterization. He will go on for pages about one minor character who are all linked, like Paul Haggis's movie Crash, at the end.

MacLeod I feel is being compared unfairly to Dickens because there are similarities with our protagonist, Robbie going to a old decrepit house, like Pip in Great Expectations. Of a London that has a seedy side th
Rafal Jasinski
Jun 04, 2011 Rafal Jasinski rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Trudno nie docenić wizji i pomysłu MacLeoda, jakkolwiek po wcześniejszej lekturze "Lodu" Dukaja, są one raczej mało zaskakujące. Oczywiście, można domniemać i dochodzić do tego, czy polski pisarz inspirował się "Wiekami światła" (czego wykluczyć nie można, zważywszy na liczne podobieństwa fabularne i ideologiczne), jakkolwiek gdybym miał z obecnej perspektywy ocenić "Lód", to w stosunku do powieści MacLeoda odjąłbym mu jedno oczko, jedną gwiazdkę.

"Wieki światła" noszą w sobie wszystko to, co cen
Lis Carey
Feb 21, 2011 Lis Carey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: f-sf, lit-fic
This book has all the feel of a Victorian England setting, but that's not quite right. It's set in an alternate England, and date of divergence appears to 1798 (although that's not 100% clear), and the story takes places three Ages after that--about three centuries.

The cause of the divergence is the discovery of aether, which makes possible a magic-based, Guild-controlled economy with a social structure much like Victorian England, only more repressive and with less hope for change. Guilds contr
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Czy jest możliwa miłość od pierwszego wejrzenia? – zastanawiają się romantycy. Ja już wiem, że owszem, jak najbardziej – miłość od rzucenia okiem na okładkę, przejechania dłonią po śliskim grzbiecie i przeczytania tych kilku znajdujących się z tyłu zdań, które mają za zadanie zachęcać do zakupu i lektury. ‘Zachęcać’ to jednak w tym przypadku słowo o niewielkiej sile wyrazu, one wręcz wcisnęły mi książkę w ręce i zmusiły do jak najszybszego zgłębienia jej zawartości. Czy tak gwałtowne uczucie, ja ...more
THE LIGHT AGES is at once a brilliant, hectic, confusing book. It hews to the "insert strange thing here, the reader will figure it out eventually" method of writing fantasy. Here you'll find a Britain where magic powers the industrial revolution, and just how far people will go to keep that magic flowing. We find things like "shiftdays" (instead of weekdays) and aether engines dropped into a world that is alternately familiar and fantastic, just a little different than the world we read of in h ...more
Yzabel Ginsberg
(I got this book from NetGalley, in exchange for a honest review.)

There's quite interesting world-building here, and I really liked discovering what the author developed in "The Light Ages". An England dominated by Guilds, owing their rank and power thanks to the mysterious aether and how it made spells and progress possible. "Changelings", people affected by aether to such an extent that they start developing odd features and end up locked in asylums, or being experimented upon. The very Victor
Sara Thompson
I am so very ambivalent on this book. This is going to be a two-faced review, I think.
Husband found this book for me at the bookstore and we got it based on the back of the book. I loves me some steampunk and this looked like it would fit the bill. I also loves me some Dickens and it turned out to fit that bill, too.
Unlike Dickens, there was no melodrama for humor or actual humor for humor. This is a world bleaker than Bleak House. This is Dickens distilled such that you want a glass of corn
Jun 03, 2015 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. A different take on an alternate universe that is similar to our own. There is a bit of back and forth in time at the beginning and end, and the conclusion is satisfying. The author makes sure not to do too much exposition, which does leave some of the main concepts fairly loose in understanding. I would love a companion book that explained the thinking behind the world more, as there are several points (aether, changelings, etc.) that I still do not fully understand.
Jennifer Klenz
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Donald Gibson
Pick it up in the library and read it ages ago. Couldn't remember the title or quite remember the author. I had read a lot of steampunk!! at the time and one book had merged into another.
Not a bad waste of time with great themes and concepts that perhaps weren't totally explored and I was left with some sense of something lacking.
Jul 24, 2013 Sue rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a complex and fascinating book. Just as Susanna Clarke seemed to channel Jane Austen to write "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," Ian MacLeod seems to have conjured up Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to write this book with him. It really feels more Victorian than most steampunks, lots of style and character development as well as great world building and description--but not as much action, and some parts seem a little long. "The Light Ages" is a challenging book--not so much a beach ...more
Janet Martin
An exquisitely realized alternative world evocative of Dickens, both his world and his work. Robbie Borrows is the son of guildsmen, workers positioned somewhere in the lower third of a stratified society built on magic assisted technology in an England frozen in the early industrial age. Starting in his early childhood, he escapes his programmed life and has periodic contact with Annalise, a changeling who freely moves in and out of the social structures of the time. At times tragic, but never ...more
Cecilia Rodriguez
Oct 05, 2015 Cecilia Rodriguez rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The plot's pace is excruciatingly slow. There are weak sparks of inspiration that get smothered by over writing.
MacLeod seems to want to emulate Tolstoy, but falls very far off the mark.
Steve Simpson
I love Ian MacLeod's magical works, especially "The light Ages" and "The House of Storms." They're gentle and atmospheric, with an undertone of sorrow and loss.
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Ian R. MacLeod is the acclaimed writer of challenging and innovative speculative and fantastic fiction. His most recent novel, Wake Up and Dream, won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, while his previous works have won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and the World Fantasy Award, and have been translated into many languages. His short story, “Snodgrass,” was ...more
More about Ian R. MacLeod...

Other Books in the Series

The Aether Universe (2 books)
  • The House of Storms (The Aether Universe, #2)

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“Little men, stuck in little positions of little authority, are always the worst.” 1 likes
“The past is like that. When it finally taps you on the shoulder, it’s never the thing you thought it to be.” 0 likes
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