by Mark Hodder
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
Aiden, a young priest in crisis, and his only friend, Clarissa, a brilliant, disfigured scholar, set off on a missionary trip to see the world. Little do they know how far the voyage will take them — all the way to the pastel, four-mooned and double-sunned world of Ptallaya, where giant armored, sluglike Yatsill reign over a host of astonishing beings unlike anything they’ve ever imagined.
And then things get REALLY weird. The telepathic Yatsill use details plucked from Clarissa’s mind to create a bizarro version of Victorian London atop their capital city, rearranging the entire structure of their society to mimic the England of her birth. Clarissa is welcomed into the ruling class, while Aiden is sent to join the guards who spend their days preparing for trouble that never seems to come to this odd but peaceful town.
Until one day, it does. When the twin suns set, a giant red moon ascends, and Ptallaya transforms into a nightmare world of thorns and tentacles, and the humans find themselves under attack from friends and foes alike. Now they might finally be able to figure out what’s really going on here — assuming they survive until the next dawn.
Hodder’s unique take on Victorian sci-fi/horror is at once reminiscent of the past and strikingly modern. It might feature distant planets and bug-eyed monsters, but the plot’s fascinating twists and revelations defy cliche.
A layer of philosophical and scientific sophistication underlies the narrative throughout as the true nature of this beautifully intricate alien environment slowly unfolds. It is mirrored by equally complex psychological transformations going on inside the characters as they are forced to battle demons both real and imagined.