“Four Winds, One Storm: The Bone Brick City” by Aaron Hollingsworth is the first in an epic Science Fantasy series following an unlikely band of crime fighters. In this first installment, our heroes come up against the Mystic Mafia, a mysterious organization that has blinded and robbed several citizens in a seemingly random pattern. I’m here to convince you that you’ll love the humorous tone, the action-packed plot, and the fascinating setting.
First, the prologue shows us the Mystic Mafia in action, establishing the fact that this will be a mystery with plenty of dangerous magic. Next we meet Will and Hindin, two outsiders entering the Bone Brick City to make a name for themselves by solving the case of the Mystic Mafia. Hindin is a malruka, a golem-esque creature made of steel. Will is also a non-human, a Tendikeye, and from this combination we learn much about the different races and their Huncells throughout the story. Polly is the next main character to arrive on the scene, a theurge (magic wielder on the run from the law. When the three of them end up at the scene of a Mystic Mafia crime, the serious spoilers begin, along with plenty of action. They end up in jail together, where they meet Röger, a human who has been arrested for hooking up with a minor. We witness the formation of the team to the tune of a battle to the death, after which the city grants them the right to assist in the case of the Mystic Mafia. All of this and more occurs in only the first tenth of the book, leading into a brawling good read.
Four Winds, One Storm should be the yardstick by which we measure Science Fantasy. In the first chapter we see a reference to telephone poles, and this is our first hint that Draybair is not your standard fantasy world. As we delve deeper into the text, we see glimmers of a past where technology is as good as or better than the real world. For those who are science fiction shy, rest assured that Four Winds, One Storm is Science Fantasy with a lowercase s and a capital F. The magic system alone proves as much, and the most technologically advanced thing we see in operation is a steam-powered car (drool!). The novel has much of the structure of an epic fantasy story, namely the longer page count and thorough introduction of its four main characters, yet it also shows many of the hallmarks of science fiction; well justified references to the real world, the historic use of technology dependent on electricity, and plastic. The fantasy elements dominate the story, giving the setting a sense of stability, while these cross-genre gems lend Hollingsworth’s world a sense of depth that definitively separates it from crackerjack adventure fantasy.
The magic system also deserves to be trotted out. I’ve always had a soft place in my heart for belief-based magic, and “Four Winds” finally justifies this form by (gasp) thinking it through to its logical conclusions. In Draybair, theurges teach themselves maxims and other rules of magic that help them believe in magic absolutely. They may start with certain talents based at least partially on their genetic inheritance, but these philocreed paths (elementals or creeds) can only be harnessed when the theurge can make sense of it within themselves. The result is that magic favors those with strong desires, will power, and creativity. It also means that magic has a socially constructed aspect, where many theurges of the same philocreed path will share common beliefs in certain maxims and the spells that they produce. So, most fire wielders can produce small fireballs and block those same fireballs using the same maxims. In short, magic in Draybair is so unlike that of standard fantasy that it takes more than a single paragraph to explain it. It may help if you think of the philocreeds as being influenced by Asian belief systems. In fact, many of the maxims are slightly altered versions of real life Koans and other truisms, but without being anachronistic.
The only difficulty I had with Four Winds, One Storm was in learning the different species names and, by extension, some of the social nuances that flavor the character interaction. This is one of the problems I’ve always had with epic fantasy, but as with any riveting novel, I’d rather take the time to learn than deal with cookie-cutter species and flimsy magic systems. Hollingsworth makes allowances for readers like me by working in interesting bits of history and worldbuilding that is relevant not only to the characters as individuals, but to their species or their home Huncells. The text does not severely punish those who can’t remember all the little details. Many of them are there for flavor and character development, or else they are emphasized again when they become relevant to the plot.
In fact, it is exactly this wide river of detail that drives the who-done-it aspect over the white waters to the bay. Once the team starts interviewing victims you’ll be absolutely hooked, if you weren’t already. A few of the clues are clearly spelled out in order to guide the reader to correct guesses at the appropriate places in the story. I love that because I hate to feel like an idiot when I’m reading a mystery. At the same time, many of the clues appear as innocuous background information when they are first introduced, and this helps the story feel realistic and builds trust in the text. In other words, you’ll enjoy the fact that Hollingsworth has more than two neurons to rub together, and he believes that you do, too.
Lastly, I’m happy to say that Four Winds, One Storm: The Bone Brick City has a sense of humor, as a 130k whopper that fits into three genres should. Sure, people get murdered, but Will and Hindin are buddies and Röger knows how to chase some skirt. Polly has the balls to put up with them, which is good, because I like to roll my eyes along with her and pretend that I can throw magic at my guy friends when they’re just too much. Hollingsworth provides us with subtle humor even in the background of the not-so-subtle, which is exactly what we need to suspend our disbelief to cover certain philocreed/magic expressions.
If you enjoy epic-length spec fic, blended genres, a unique and developed setting, a humorous tone, and watching the bad guys get their butts handed to them in martial-arts style magic battles, then you will love Four Winds, One Storm: The Bone Brick City by Aaron Hollingsworth.
Michelle Ristuccia writes short fiction of all speculative fiction genres in between chasing her toddler from tree to tree. The shorter the work, the better, because 200 words looks very long on her cellphone and that keypad is very, very small. You can find out more about her rabid love of spec fic, podcasting, and raising future geeklings at her blog, wakingdreamsblog.blogspot.com