Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn
At this point as a reader (can I really be over forty years old?), I think Iíve gotten pretty good at what to expect from a book. As a reviewer you get a bit of a leg up from browsing in the bookstore as the marketing folks always send along some material with each title and so before I open the first page I have a pretty good idea what Iím dealing with. And yet -- and yet. Sometimes a surprise reveals itself as I read, like with Carrie Vaughnís latest (a departure from her Kitty Norville series), Discordís Apple.
On the surface, the story seems straightforward: comic book writer Evie has had an upsetting conversation with her father concerning his health and she is returning home to care for him. Upon her arrival she discovers that the basement is full of magical objects which her family has been charged for generations with protecting. (Her fatherís illness heightens her awareness of the objects as their care is about to be turned over to her.) There is a bad person who has some bad friends who would like one particular object and if they get it then it means the end of the world as we know it. Anyone who ever watched an episode of Buffy, (or the long forgotten but delightfully cheesy Friday the 13th: The Series which is about a bunch of magical objects protected in an antiques store), knows what Evie has to do: get the bad guys, protect the basement, save the world. Thatís what I expected but I underestimated this one.
First, Evie Walker does not live on earth as we know it. In her world, Pakistan and India have launched nuclear weapons at each other, the Kremlin has just been attacked by terrorists and the US Congress is debating whether to side with China or Russia in a new world war. (Itís owing all that money to China which makes this a tough one.) Homeland Security is everywhere and while she is happily writing a best selling comic, even Evieís small Colorado hometown is rapidly unraveling. In the midst of big global worries and personal concerns for her father is the oddness of strangers showing up at the door asking for objects. Some, the house makes clear should receive what they want while others, just as clearly, should not. Evie follows her gut but even the house doesnít know what to do with Alex, the man who is looking for something strong enough to kill him. Fortunately heís not good at dying because soon enough a whole lot of bad guys are going to be trying to kill Evie.
What ensues are many chases, many harried moments, some tough love for Homeland Security (itís good for them), no small amount of magic and, of course, King Arthur. Because if youíre going up against the bad guys you really need King Arthur! (Come on -- you have to love when he shows up. And Merlin. And Excalibur. Itís awesome.) Alternating between the contemporary drama are flashbacks to the Trojan War and the Greek warrior, Sinon, who convinced the Trojans to open their gates and accept the most famous wooden horse in history thus bringing about the sacking of Troy which resulted in the long journey home for Odysseus. Things do not go well for Sinon, however, who finds himself captured by Apollo, a god with a serious abusive streak who is not pleased with how things went for the Trojans. In the chapters that follow, Sinon witnesses the end of the Olympians (which really began with the Trojan War itself) and finds himself cast adrift in history, lost from his friends, the gods, and everything he has ever known. Sinon is not one to give up easily though and the convergence of his history and Evieís future makes for some serious mythological moments of excitement and near disaster. (Just stay with it, Vaughn wraps all the plot strands together, promise.) The minute the Greeks get involved, you know itís going to be good.
Discordís Apple is popcorn reading at its best. Evie is a smart and thoughtful protagonist and Vaughn takes the time to explain her motivations thoroughly, and also devotes a fair amount of time to her life as a writer. Sheís no wimp while not swinging too far in the opposite direction of unrealistic heroine-without-super powers-who-sure-seems-to-act-like-it-anyway, or what I like to refer to as Angelina Jolie circa Tomb Raider. (Not that thereís anything wrong with that.) The mythology is sound, the action fun and the thrills come a mile a minute. My only complaint would be that the shift from present to past can be jarring at times and Sinonís memories stop the plot more than a few times but Vaughn makes sure that all of his story is important. I canít complain too much as I stayed up most of the night to find out how Evie was going to get out of this mess. Itís perfect winter reading -- the sort of book to take you away from all your worries and indulge in some serious wish fulfillment. (Weíre talking busting through a Homeland Security blockade with King Arthur on the roof of your car wielding the greatest sword in history and a guy who fought with Odysseus riding shotgun. If thatís not a good literary time, I donít know what is.)
Discordís Apple by Carrie Vaughn