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Strange, Beautiful, Fantastic

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Apr 14, 2019: Urban Reverie is a collection of delicious ingredients being cooked for a recipe both completely unknown and completely worthy of examination. The enigmatic Joaquin Saavedra has a few flaws in the storytelling department, grammatical or typographical for the most part, in addition to resorting to explaining certain magical apparatus as “it’s just not possible to understand!” a tad more often than advisable. However, the only other things which I’ve looked at and considered as potential defects constitute matters of taste; considering the collective taste of the work, which I find powdery-sweet with just the right hint of sourness, those defects seem trivial and utterly inconsequential.

Urban Reverie is what you’d get if you took a good bit of English/Gaelic folklore, stirred in a few pinches of Asia Minor and Vedic influence, cut it with a large amount of totally original material, or which certainly seems that way at least, poured it onto a proto-steampunk civilization, and then let it develop into a modern nation after they realize that magic is a good answer to many problems of civil and information engineering. It’s great. For a lorehound it’s like walking into a convention and getting a Christmas present from every third conversation. The mechanics of the universe’s fundamental composure and the essential structuring of magic have a very neat and mathematically-inspired design. For that matter, Joaquin seems to have a fair interest in matters like the Qabalah and traditional Western alchemy (alright, the moniker “dwarf” is used instead of “gnome” – zero stars). It’s serious enough about itself that you’re compelled to also take it seriously, but not above levity sparingly introduced. In fairness to some people, the way that many things are just not spelled out up front might rankle somewhat, but I have enjoyed it greatly.

Without giving much away, because a story’s plot is like dignity – it shouldn’t be idly surrendered without a very compelling reason – the events generally unfold around friends Oberen, Chrysanthemum, and Quinen, who have an unusual relationship to say the least. Things start off with raised eyebrows, on the set of a scene which would make Van Helsing proud, and don’t ever come close to “perfectly standard” despite the portrayal of certain major archetypical locales: the halls of academia, a murder (!?) scene, a dealer’s den, homey little apartments, and so on. Some of this is the alien society in which this all takes place, but it’s a little bit of a mystery, a little bit of political conspiracy, a little bit of crunchy action, and a little bit of other stuff less easily pigeonholed, which results in a . . . well, something like a space opera wearing the skin of unusual fantasy. A bucketful of different species trying to coexist in at least passive-aggressive acceptance, the edifice of a monolithic governing establishment, and a place where even daily routine seems fascinating to freshly-introduced outsiders.

In short, there’s an admirable grand design in Urban Reverie: cute if obviously strange romance, a layered tapestry of lore, interesting people, big-picture planning, and many many places where it’s just cool to read. It’s absolutely worth picking up, and doubly so if you like fantasy that lies well outside shouting distance of Lord of the Rings.

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