Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica

Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica
TOR Books, 2009
ISBN 978-0-7653-1947-0

In A.M. Dellamonica’s novel Indigo Springs, Astrid Lethewood is an exceptional young woman.  Her father was the town lush, with a penchant for spending his paycheck – when he had one – on antiques.  Her mother is a postal worker who imagines herself as a famous fictional detective – a male one.   And she herself is able to conjure magic out of ordinary household objects: paintbrushes that erupt with detailed images straight from the mind’s eye; eyeglasses that make others believe the wearer is telling the truth, no matter what they say; bracelets that allow the user to become the embodiment of beauty, however they choose to portray it.

But she doesn’t do this by herself.   Although Astrid comes from a long line of magically imbued persons (ok, witches, if you wish), she would have no real ability to utilize her talents without access to vitagua, a somewhat rare but naturally occurring liquid magic, that just happens leak into Astrid’s house from an underground river that runs through the world.  Oh, and it’s blue (hence the title).  And not every object can be infused with magic, only those objects that lend themselves somehow to the magic (hence her father’s obsession with “antiques”).

The problem is, this liquid magic changes those who are touched by it, especially if they do not have the capacity to control it, as Astrid does.  For the magic is elemental, without conscience.  And its not just people who are altered when they come into contact with vitagua, but the world itself.  Contaminated people become bestial, sprouting antlers or feathers, or even merging into other animalistic beings; plants grow uncontrolled: trees soar to unbelievable heights, vines run rampant, ordinary flowers become gigantic and run amok, uprooting foundations of not only manmade structures but the earth itself, with elements flaming or flowing out of control.

Magic unleashed is a real threat to civilization, but not everyone feels this is a bad thing.  A small yet powerful faction of contaminated humans seeks an overthrow of the political world as we know it by manipulating the magic, with the traditional government working desperately to contain the feral contamination.  This is why the book opens with an unhinged Astrid imprisoned, being interviewed by crisis negotiator Will Forest (the voice of rationality).

Will is not there for Astrid, specifically, but to find out what he can about Astrid’s childhood friend (and one time lover), Sahara Knax, who is the lynchpin of the eco-terrorist cult.  In Will’s words, “I need to discover Sahara’s weaknesses, anything that will tell my panicked government how to fight as her numbers grow, as she unleashes monsters into the seas and forests, as she forces us to napalm U.S. territory to destroy the infestations.  Her actions grow more dangerous daily, and our attempts to locate her have failed.  Astrid may be our only hope.”

That’s a huge stage to set; however, Indigo Springs is not really about this political struggle.  Instead, it delves into the backstory of how Astrid’s magic and its link to vitagua was discovered and unleashed, and what led Sahara to such militant actions and Astrid to the edge of insanity.  It also reveals a shadowy and equally insidious group whose sole purpose throughout human history has been to drive magic out of the world (witch hunters, as it were), and the carnage that ensues when individuals believe that such power (magic or orthodoxy) can ever be controlled.  And it is also the story of a doomed loved triangle, eccentricities, and how often things truly are not what they seem.

For all that it has going for it, you would think that Indigo Springs would be a literary force to be reckoned with.  Unfortunately, Ms. Dellamonica seems to have bitten off more than we can chew.  I found the story to be somewhat confusing and over-reaching, setting me up for one experience and then strong-arming me into another before I was quite ready for it.

The character development for Astrid, Sahara, and Jacks (the third in the love triangle) was wonderful and I wanted to stay interacting with those characters even as the situation in which they found themselves slid out of control.  But the magic was too big, scattered over time and distance, encompassing history and a world beyond our world, which was too ethereal for even an unreal landscape.

It was that kind of down to earth believability paired with too much willing suspension of disbelief that finally made me lose interest in Indigo Springs.  I could not accept that Astrid had “forgotten” so much of what was so incredible in her childhood, simply because she was wearing a “chantment” in the form of a dragon earring that “hid” her magical memories.  Memories that powerful simply cannot be masked.  Nor could I justify such a dangerous and unstable (and heretofore uncooperative) prisoner suddenly letting her interrogator, no matter how unthreatening, see so intimately into her heart and mind.  This misguided flashback technique immediately set a tension to the prose that was never fully realized in the unfolding story, making both the “here and now” and the memories seem disingenuous.

But in the end, it was the magic that undid me.  I could not accept that this magic was a natural, underlying part of our world, for if it had existed for so long with so many lives touched through the years and so many political struggles occurring because of it, then why had there not been some inkling of its being there in such a form?  How is it that it had remained hidden for thousands of years, only to be released by one out-of-control egomaniac who just happened to be friends with a passive aggressive Oregon witch with incomplete memories?  And the magic was so damned convenient, so seductive.  Have a problem?  Enchant something, and make the problem go away.  Need something done and not have a clear idea of how to achieve it?  Find a loose piece of silverware and get it to magically make whatever you need done possible.  Nope, sorry.  The world would have been in cinders long before now had that kind of power been available.

Still, Ms. Dellamonica is a skilled writer.  Her characterizations of Astrid, Sahara, Jacks and many of the others who came in contact with them were wonderfully realized, deeply intimate, and compelling.  Likewise, her sweeping concepts, worldbuilding underpinnings and historical considerations were also well thought out and consistent.  She simply could not bring those two disparate aspects of the story together and make them work.  Ultimately, Indigo Springs should have been bigger, or smaller, in order to be successful.

A worthwhile read?  Sure… if you have nothing else in your queue.  In my opinion, that is.

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~ by arcticwren on December 8, 2010.

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