In the realm of fantasy and science fiction, there's an epidemic of writers with little ambition and even less talent, people who are seemingly contenIn the realm of fantasy and science fiction, there's an epidemic of writers with little ambition and even less talent, people who are seemingly content to copy the work of their idols and regurgitate it as their own. Like any facsimile, though, the reproduction is rarely pristine, giving only the basic content without drawing on any personal inspiration, simply giving us a story that we've heard before and hoping we'll buy it again. While not without its own shortcomings, Chelsea Rebman's Orion breathes some new life into its genre with a charming protagonist and a great sense of humor.
The novel centers on its eponymous title character and narrator, Orion Ransom, a somewhat awkward but ultimately good-hearted sorcerer whose bespectacled appearance bears a passing resemblance to a certain other literary wizard. Any fear that this story would be little more than fan fiction was quickly dispelled, however, with Orion coming off as a snarky, self-aware, twenty-something slacker that wouldn't feel out of place in a Joss Whedon television series. For a sorcerer, he's quite down to earth and witty, and though he clearly would like to become a powerful magic user, the story is constructed around a romance between him and a manic pixie dream girl named Mercury. While she (and most of the other supporting characters for that matter) don't seem as well drawn as Orion, their relationship and its development is cute and essentially natural, and her upbeat personality serves as a nice foil to his occasional self-deprecation.
In addition to this distinctly ordinary hero, the novel also sets itself apart from its peers with its contemporary Kansas setting. I would have liked to have seen this setting exploited even more thoroughly, but nevertheless, amusing references to pop culture and the information age abound. Lovers of magic need not worry, though, as Orion also features plenty of fantastic elements, including a court of fellow sorcerers that convenes in a crystal ball and not one but two magical lands, simply called the World Above and the World Below. Most of the action of the novel takes place on Earth, but the descriptions of these parallel worlds and their inhabitants, the grotesque, humanoid Weirds, are perhaps the segments in which Rebman most shows her potential as a prose writer with evocative language that brings the little that we do see of the World Above and the World Below fully to life.
Where Orion falters is in the construction of its plot. Even though fantasy necessarily must break with reality, there were several instances where I found myself unable to suspend my disbelief at some of the coincidences in this story, and these contrivances were nearly always revealed when the plot most needed them to connect A to B. Rebman's prose stresses the importance of hope, perhaps treating it as a sort of magic in and of itself, but it's still hard for me to see some of the more convenient plot points as being anything but the result of deus ex machinae. There was also the occasional fantasy cliché with a big battle between the hero and a mindless, evil doppelganger being the chiefest culprit.
Neither of these flaws are deal-breakers, though, and Orion should be an entertaining read for fantasy fans of all ages, especially those that are weary of the worn out, ye old fantasy tropes like knights, halflings, and dragons. This is Rebman's debut novel, and as accomplished as it is, she will undoubtedly improve as an author with more experience, and I look forward to any future works she will publish, be they continuations of Orion's story or something else entirely....more