A Vanishing Glow by Alexis Radcliff

Vanishing Glow

Jason Tern slid his rapier free of its sheath as he crouched in the brush with two other blue-coated soldiers, yards away from the lynching.

One construct already hung from the solitary oak tree in the clearing before them, dead, still twitching like a marionette on the branch, while his companion screamed, fighting for his life. Two burly men in leather work vests held the remaining construct fast, one to each side, while the ringleader tightened a noose under his chin. Sunlight glinted off the brass-and-steel arm restrained behind the construct’s back as he struggled against his captors. The ringleader stooped to gather the end of the rough hempen rope and tossed it into the air. It arced over a thick branch of the tree, beside the first rope, and sailed back down into his calloused hands. He yanked hard, and their captive jerked with a strangled gasp.

“I count five of them,” Jason whispered. He and his Windriders would have the element of surprise if they stepped in now. The workmen looked more like common thugs than real fighters-bullies who’d talk big while they had the upper hand, but would back down quickly from the business end of a sword.

“Five is two more than we have, and they all have clubs,” Albas grumbled. He spit his tobacco into the dirt and pulled his cap low over his eyes. “I don’t like those odds if it comes to a fight. We should wait for our outriders.”

Jason is returning to Adaron with his Windriders in tow, to lend support to his old friend Nole who is about to take the throne. They both want to change the shape of society and bring an end to war, but there are others on the council who profit from conflict and have a strong interest in maintaining the status quo.
Meanwhile, Nilya is a young engineer and inventor, setting off bombs for the army while hoping someone will notice her technical skill and transfer her to a better job. Her latest invention might just be a game-changer.

A Vanishing Glow consists of the first two parts of an episodic tale, so it ends inconclusively, but there were enough intriguing elements here to get me hooked. The setting blends fantasy and steampunk elements in the form of mystech, a god-given source of power crystals that enable a number of technological innovations, though the creation of the crystals leaves the technological civilisation on a rather shaky foundation. Constructs, humans with mystech adaptations, gain superhuman abilities at the cost of social exclusion. And the politics of the court are subtle and devious.

There are surprising parallels between Nilya and Jason’s stories: estrangement from parents, the death of a close friend, and a struggle to find their places in the world despite society’s differing expectations. From very different starting points, both are ultimately motivated by justice, and it’s soon obvious that their paths will have to cross.

A promising start that I hope will soon be continued, as a lot of questions are left open, and after all the grief the characters have gone through, I’m desperate for some happy endings.

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