Oracle by Susan Boulton
Susan Boulton’s Oracle is a fantasy set in an imaginary land with distinct similarities to nineteenth century Great Britain. A long time supporter of SFF forums and a keen participant in online discussions etc, this is Susan’s debut novel, published by the increasingly successful Tickety Boo Press.
Pugh Avinguard is detailed to aid and protect noted political heavyweight Lord Joshua Calvinward. Meanwhile, a special bill in the land’s Forum is setting the classes against one another, a bill which will impact upon those suffering bond labour. In this respect there are noticeable echoes of class struggle following the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and this makes for an interesting scenario. Most characters come from the upper classes, or from a curious Goddess-centred religious order, but one noble man at least is disenchanted with the upper classes…
When a railway accident of dubious origin changes the lives of some of the main characters – Pugh and Joshua not least, but also Emily Manling and Mathew Howorth – a chain of events is set in motion that leads to social turmoil affecting those at the lowest end of the chain to those in the Forum. Added to this mix of class politics are a couple of personal tales, not least the relationship of Pugh with his former wife Claire, who has become a Glimpser – the Oracle. Returned as if from the dead (a situation which intriguingly mirrors the tale of Mathew and Emily), Pugh has to reconcile his feelings for his ex-wife, his thoughts on their messily annulled marriage, and the events whirling around him. The aspect of Claire and her abilities is particularly intriguing, asking that question: what happens to political turmoil if there is someone around who can glimpse the future? Can even an assassination be stopped…?
This is a good novel, with lots to recommend it. It does have a few flaws that perhaps arise from its “debut” nature. Some of the prose is set in paragraphs with lots of short sentences, which is great for action, and if used sparingly, but which on occasion can interfere with reading. Also, the events seem to take place over a variable time period, but there is too little in the prose or speech of the characters to indicate this. I would find myself thinking, “How many days or weeks have passed since…?”
These are small points however, and they can be amended. As a scenario, as a tale of events with twists and turns to satisfy the reader, and with a good few intriguing characters, Oracle is well worth a read whether you like fantasy, alternate-world fantasy or historical fantasy. I myself would class this as alternate world fantasy, but the ‘historical’ atmosphere does give it a British hue.