by Kelly McCullough
Review by Paul Haggerty
Ace Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0441014259
Date: 25 July, 2006 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
WebMage postulates a universe where the gods and other supernatural beings of mythology are alive and well and breeding offspring in the many layers of reality which make up the multiverse. Ravirn is a young computer geek like many others you might meet on a college campus. But there is a difference. Ravirn is the descendant of Lachesis, the fate that measures out the thread of life. Ravirn refers to her as his grandmother simply because it would take to long to prefix it with the correct number of "greats", even if he knew how many there should be. Now, you would think that a college student with access to the servers that run reality itself would be living on easy street. But then you haven't just discovered that your great (to the who-knows what power) aunt Atropos (she who cuts the thread of life) has decided to end free-will itself and you're all that stands between her and all of humanity across all the realities.
Ravirn's just lucky Atropos needs a unanimous vote of the three fates before she can snip off someone's life. But then the gods of ancient Greece weren't known for strictly following the rules. And while there are ways of convincing the others that Ravirn's in need a good trimming that don't actually involve Ravirn doing anything wrong, the young man seems bound and determined to help her out with one suspicious act after another. But then when you're going up against someone as powerful as Atropos, you can't exactly act in the open, and even the most innocent actions can be made to look shady. Unfortunately for Ravirn, subterfuge is something Atropos is very good at, and Ravirn's going to need to be even more lucky than he is skilled if he's going to beat her at her own game.
Helping out the young hacker is his webgoblin Melchior, a program construct used like a sorcerer uses a familiar, only Mechior has depths that Ravirn is only beginning to guess at. And his closest, and only, ally is his cousin Cerice, a mean magical computer hacker in her own right. Of course the term cousin can only be applied in the loosest sense of her being a descendant of the third Fate, Clotho, she who spins the thread of life. Vagueness in terminology is especially important in this case, considering the urges he gets whenever she's around. Of course she has the armor, the sword, and the guns, so a certain degree of respectful behavior would be in order
From crashing the magical network that controls reality, to hacking the very database that contains all the threads of life, to treating with the very essence of chaos, Ravirn's jumps from one point of questionable stability to the next, seeking to stay one step ahead of the divine vengeance that snaps at his heels and trying to find a way to undermine his Aunt's insane plans. And to make matters even worse, Atropos has inflicted him with the Cassandra curse which causes any statements he makes about Atropos and her plans sound like the most pathetic lies imaginable.
WebMage contains a good deal of humor and a highly inventive new way of looking at the universe which combines the magic of old with the computer structures of today. It's not so much that the old ways are gone; it's more that the old ways were too uncertain, so new structures were laid on top of them. The new ways might have less overall power, but there's also a lot less chance of having your body atomized and sucked into the eternal void. Ravirn's young enough to still have the sense that he can get away with anything, which helps him as he perpetrates one ludicrous scheme after another trying to keep the old folks guessing. But he's also old enough that the sense of disaster looming over him means that he has to start taking things seriously, and that the things he is now being forced to do, could end in disaster for more than just himself. But then balancing those two cosmic forces, liberty and responsibility, is a large part of what makes someone into an adult.
Over all WebMage is a very enjoyable read.