Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: The River of Blue Fire (Otherland #2) by Tad Williams

River of Blue Fire (Otherland, #2)
River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Enjoyable, but takes its time...

The second installment of the Otherland series by Tad Williams picks up where the last leaves off. The "heroes" gathered by Mr. Sellers at the Golden City narrowly escape into another simulation, one that seems perfectly normal except that they are now 1/100th their real size. Gigantic insects and birds populate the world, going about their natural activities, but those are hazardous when you're the size of the next meal.

Soon, events beyond their control shatter the small company and each remnant must find its own way through the increasingly disturbing simulations. Renie and !Xabbu find themselves in Oz gone wrong where they meet a mysterious man who can overcome the rules of the simulation and a naive young girl named Emily who needs rescuing.

Meanwhile, Orlando and Fredericks find themselves in the kitchen sink of a cartoon simulation. Soon, they are drawn into a quest to save a baby match (yes, a match) called Little Spark from evildoers who have kidnapped him for nefarious reasons. The river becomes a stream of spilled water where Orlando, Fredericks and Chief Strike Anywhere's (the match's father) lives are threatened by ravenous salad tongs that call the river home.

Shortly after Orlando and Fredericks are swept away, the others find themselves in a world where the river takes on the form of a jet stream, where flight is as natural as walking. Martine becomes the voice of this segment of the group, keeping a log of what's happening and to whom. The mystery of "who is Dread" takes hold as several of her log entries note anomalous behavior by various members, a mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Finally, Paul Jonas continues his quest for the mysterious winged woman who haunts his dreams. Plagued by the tireless Twins, once known as Finch and Mullet, he runs from simulation to simulation, some quite horrifying. Gally, a kid who is neither puppet (part of the program) or citizen (human guest) makes another appearance but fails to recognize Paul from before.

In the "real world", the family and friends of those trapped play out their own dramas. Jeremiah is dismayed with Long Joseph abandons him to see his son who is still in the hospital. Christabel worries for her friend, Mr. Sellers, who has taken Cho-Cho, a scary street boy as his assistant. Catur Ramsey, a lawyer representing the Gardinar and Fredericks families, tracks down leads, including the skittish agent, Beezle Bug, who seems to want to help but cannot do so without his comatose master's permission, and one of the stars of a popular kids show on the net. And in Australia, a detective takes a closed case as a personal challenge and begins to unravel a mystery that may reveal the earliest conquest of a serial killer.

A common theme throughout is the feeling of hopelessness, despair, and perhaps even boredom of both those trapped in Otherland and those in the real world. It's difficult at times to believe that things will get better.

The River of Blue Fire is complex, vivid, and at times scary. The action is intense and hard to predict, which is something I like in a story, and the characters are well-developed and interesting.

On the other hand, this book reminds me of The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien, in that it's a continuation of a story in progress, sort of like a bridge. There is no true beginning or ending, though certain plot elements are resolved along the way. Like Tolkien, the story isn't rushed and in some places seems to linger just a bit too long. The length of the book and the pace may be daunting to those who are unprepared for it. If you have trouble finishing The Lord of the Rings or Battlefield Earth, you might have trouble finishing The Otherland series.

Overall, however, I really liked this story. I would recommend it to anyone who likes epic fantasy, epic sci fi, or the idea of living in a fantastic, yet unpredictable, virtual world.



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