This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Oh dear. After reading 100 or so pages of Wanderers & Islanders, Steve Cockayne’s first novel in his Legends of the Land series, I was all ready to give it an excited and enthusiastic thumbs-up. But a hundred pages later, and I’d simply lost interest, as Cockayne had managed to take an intriguing start and ruin it with a thorough injection of stupid.
Before I get to the bit where the book falls apart, though, let me praise the more interesting parts of it, because they are extremely interesting and should be encouraged. Cockayne clearly knows his source material and shows good taste in drawing inspiration from Arthur Machen’s stories of a hidden maybe-supernatural race living in parallel to humanity, and I also detect a hint of Lord Dunsany and other founding fathers of the fantasy genre in Cockayne’s approach to the concept. In an unnamed kingdom which sort-of resembles England at various points from 1850 to 1950, three parallel stories unfold. Leonardo Pegasus, court magician, becomes enthralled by his mysterious new assistant Alice, to the point where he misuses the future-perceiving wonders of the Empathy Engine to manipulate his way closer to her. Rusty Brown spends a boyhood summer making friends with a young girl with a strange secret, who vanishes from the village under mysterious circumstances. And Victor Lazarus, a retired military officer, answers a mysterious job advertisement only to find himself in command of an effort to restore a creaky old mansion which might just be haunted.