Wham! spins the tale of two young fairies in a science fantasy dystopian world. And I mean an actual dystopian world, not the husk of one bolted to the end of its real genres just to earn another tag.
Upon Unity Day, all nations the globe over ceded their authority to the World Alliance, leaving it free to shape the planet and its citizens to their will. It didn’t waste any time, killing off nature with its mass spraying of pesticides, corralling undesirable populations, and indoctrinating children through a cocktail of institutionalized propaganda and subliminal messages. Take what Scar did to the Pridelands, multiply that by six, and you’re almost halfway to the state of things.
Much of what we uncover doesn’t come from long-winded, out of place, exposition. That’s an important marker for good worldbuilding and storytelling. A truly fleshed out setting won’t typically need chapters worth of tangential lore dumped on the reader’s lap. It feels very organic when we learn about how rare meat is, the widespread necessity of inhalers, and the fact that the younger generation has never seen a star in the night’s sky. Each revelation hurts a bit inside, and I get the feeling that it’s meant to. Every time you think you’ve understood the depths of the World Alliance’s depravity, you turn the page and find that they can, indeed, go lower.
Interactions between Tess and her fellow serfs citizens maintain the solid form of the setting. Not once was did I forget the mire they were in, and neither do Wham!’s characters. Dialogue, motivation, and action remain consistent and logical for all parties, not just the protagonist. Those who don’t directly oppose the World Alliance try to lead the best life they can, bitter as it may be. The underground bleeds constantly, and they are losing. The world feels believable and thus stays interesting even when the point of view shifts to minor characters.
Case in point; Maud, Tess’ caretaker after Children and Family Assistance takes away her sister and parents, is by far my favorite. Every time I got a look inside of her head, I was intrigued rather than annoyed. Pieces of the story that couldn’t be told through Tess or Nia’s eyes are neatly divulged without ruining the pacing. This is quite the accomplishment given how many threads Wham! runs at a time, a praiseworthy aspect of the Phipps’ writing, and a bold statement against the current meta. Too many guides and publishers tell us to draft works with one perspective and a stock-standard style of delivery. Had Wham! been timid and bowed to the latest trends, it wouldn’t be as good as it is.
That being said, this rare piece of art has its cracks. The most pronounced of which is a very interesting issue with narrative weight. You see, I usually find that new or pandering works will feature protagonists that obtain power or achieve their goals without actually “earning” anything. That is to say, the effort spent doesn’t match up with results rendered. One of the best examples from my generation would be the sudden reveal of Kirito’s “Dual Blades” in Sword Art Online (it’s a little less slanted in the light novel but doesn’t come off well at all in the anime). It grants him a massive advantage that was justified with little more than a few handwaves and some exposition. Sure, the rule of cool softens the blow a bit, but the whole situation leans against one’s willing suspension of disbelief. Even worse are the titles that do this without any sort of justification at all, it’s enough to make me want to run to my local torch and pitchfork dealer.
With Wham! the problem presents itself in reverse. Both the protagonists and main villain come across as capable, intelligent, and rational actors. As I previously mentioned, they are written consistently, and enough build up is given to make their movements believable. How they move, and what they accomplish, however, leaves me for a loop.
One of the most powerful magic users on the side of good drops her legendary staff in combat, her ally attempts to collect it long after it’s too late. The mess feels like it was orchestrated just to get it into the villainess’s hands.
Pandora was built up as a cunning, sadistic witch that didn’t make me groan when she killed off her own minions. The culture of the World Alliance and her consistent nature made such a thing work. She did it because she was evil, not to show how evil she was. Why is it that she only steals the staff through a stroke of misfortune?
The intelligent, plucky protagonists regularly avoid surveillance by the skinwelers (basically vision/auditory wards with communication functions) by simply covering them or moving to different rooms with no immediate repercussions. This is in spite of the fact that the government has been around long enough and has been written competently enough that they should know the most basic tricks and be in a position to throttle those that try them.
Characters are given credibility through their development, that all-important narrative weight, but the sturdy handles of their mallets are attached to paper heads sometimes. Some of the direct conflict in Wham! is like watching boxers politely take turns beating each other’s faces in.
If this all sounds like I’m being harsher with my criticism than some previously reviewed works, it’s because I am. While it still might qualify as an indie novel (I’d judge it even harsher if it didn’t) It’s seen a wider audience, was drafted by seasoned authors, and had the eyes of multiple beta readers.
That being said, it’s important to mention that I enjoyed the book. It’s highly likely that I will set a course for the Phipps’ version of Earth again, and when I do, you’ll hear about it. My desire to continue is tenuous, though. I want to know what happens to the friends I’ve met, but at the same time, I’m reluctant to see my net-positive impression tank. Wham! is on the crossroads between Elysium and Mordor.
It’s still a destination worth dipping into at least once. If the fairy ring is still intact, you can find your way through Amazon here (free for Kindle Unlimited users). Those of you without perception filtering spells are advised to bring something to deal with the skinwelers. It wouldn’t be wise to let the powers that be know of our existence.
I love to read fiction of every genre, if you have a piece that you’d like a review for, don’t hesitate to shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a comment below.