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Another book

Galveston by Sean Stewart is the book I finished yesterday. It's not a first novel, but I mis-timed the books I had on hold at the library, so I pulled it off my to-read shelf.

It's an urban fantasy set, unsurprisingly, in Galveston, Texas after magic has re-emerged into the world. Unlike many urban fantasies I've read lately, this one doesn't play the Shhh! It's a secret card, in which vampires and pixies live alongside regular folks but only the super-cool hero and his circle of friends have the gift of seeing them.

In fact, Galveston falls very much into the post-apocalyptic tradition: The old, high-tech society has fallen and people are struggling by as best they can with home-made clothes and cobbled-together equipment. In place of radiation-scarred mutants, Stewart has given us "revellers"--ordinary people who have been transformed by magic and slowly become monstrous. The term revellers comes from the section of the city where all the transformed people are banished, where the city is governed by magic, and an eternal Mardi Gras celebration goes on, presided over by the god Momus.

All of which sounds very strange, but the book reads like a skillful, low-brow lit novel: Much of the opening of the book deals with the daughter of Galveston's most powerful woman. Mother is dying in a difficult, ugly way, and her daughter tries to make a deal with Momus to save her. Things don't go as planned, and the daughter (Sloane) spends more and more time hiding in the Mardi Gras party as her mother deteriorates.

What makes the book so reminiscent of modern literary novels (not that I've read a ton, but I have tried a few) is the tone and the careful characterization. These characters aren't strivers who do their damndest against impossible odds--they're unheroic folk who struggle with their role in the community, with their relationships and most of all with their self-image.

When Sloane flees the news that her mother died while she playing poker and partying, she disappears into Mardi Gras and no one believes she's gone there. The other POV character is accused of her murder, and he undergoes a hellish trial and banishment that shatters his sense of self and reveals just how much his community detests him.

It's a story that is as much about personal salvation as about saving the city, and the climax of the story involves a cataclysmic hurricane. How the two protagonists deal with the crisis reveals the way they can deal with themselves and with the magic around them.

Wonderfully written. I was impressed.