There’s a lot of easy, formulaic things that have been created over the years and used to spin out a story, be it a book, TV or a movie, without too much effort. Damsels in distress, buddy cops, forbidden treasure, government experiments…and the list goes on for pages. Some examples, of course, can be found at the timesink called TV Tropes. ( I shouldn’t have linked to it! Please come back!)
One of the most tried & true is the adversarial relationship between magic and technology. It’s faith and using strange powers in ways that break the laws of science set against facts, logic and the result of human knowledge and ingenuity. It’s also many times portrayed as the chosen few who can use magic instead of the average person, since anyone can become proficient at science with enough hard work and dedication. When the two forces meet, it’s rarely pretty. For example, in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, the titular wizard is a walking bane to electronics, which is both a blessing and a curse for his spell-slinging.
That battle is a central theme of Changeling. It begins after the defeat of the evil wizard Det Morson. His castle is destroyed, his minions scattered, his dragons and other creatures put into a deep sleep. However, Det had been busy with more than magic-he had a son, Pol, a tiny baby who was found in the rubble. Unwilling to kill the innocent child despite the virtual certainty that the boy would grow to have some ability at magic, the kindly wizard Mor decides to take the child to a world where magic does not exist, in an effort to both give the boy a normal life and save everyone a potential crisis down the line.
However, as with any good fantasy story the magic used has certain rules, and this one requires that a balance must be maintained. To fulfill this law Mor plucks a newborn child from a couple in our world, replacing it with the infant Pol. He gives the transplanted baby to a trusted friend, and little Mark Marakson grows up with an unusual talent and interest in mechanical devices, while Pol, now named Daniel Chain, has a taste for music and a tendency to short out and disrupt any nearby technology, much to the frustration of his engineer father.
Mark’s efforts to help and advance his family and neighbors are met with suspicion and anger, especially since the local scars of evil wizardry haven’t faded to any great degree, and his sufficiently advanced technology is seen as not being too much different from Morson’s magic. After a terrible accident and rejection, Marakson flees to the open desert, where he discovers the ruins of an ancient civilization that had created amazing technology. He quickly mastered it, and set out to again spread his message of peace through greater science..whether the people of his world desired it or not, of course. On the other plane, Daniel is summoned by the dying Mor to return to his birthhome and battle Mark.
There’s more to the conflict, and what I’ve described above is laid out so smoothly and cleanly that it’s quite pleasant. When Daniel arrives in the magical dimension, however, all bets are off. The characters and plot might seem somewhat one-dimensional from my description, but I can assure you that Zelazny makes them solid and fun to read. You never stop feeling a sympathy for both Mark and David as they grow into the roles created for them by birth and magic. The story revolves around the two of them, but the lesser roles are not neglected, each given sufficient meat to their bones. While I get the impression from the writing style that it’s aimed at high-school students (that may be only my impression) and that’s certainly not an indictment of the quality on display. If you’re in the mood for a nice chunk of delicious fantasy writing, Changeling will fill you up without making your brain feel overwhelmed. The book has a sequel named Madwand, which I’m also going to review as soon as I get my hands on a copy.
As with all of my other reviews, this one is also featured on Cannonball Read, a race to review a certain number of books in a year, all in a good cause. There’s a lot of other good stuff over there: please feel free to take a look.