More Hardboiled than the Dresden Files: The Way Into Chaos: Book One of The Great Way by Harry Connolly
I’m starting to think that writing a good — by good, I means delivers the tropes while meeting wider literary standards — Big Fat Heroic Fantasy Epic is like squaring a circle, reconciling Justice with Mercy, bringing World Peace… an exercise in balancing seemingly irreconcilable opposites.
You need to have the world building of Tolkien but the pacing of Ian Fleming, the escapism of C.S. Lewis but the grit and cynicism of John Steinbeck. It has to be an armchair-by-the-fire-dog-at-my-feet-on-a-winter-day read, and yet not pretend that pre-modern societies are anything but structurally unpleasant. It needs to take you on a flight of fancy, but ground you in the familiar. And, given that we live in the 21st century, despite the pre-modern setting, it’s nice to have believably empowered women helping to shape the story.
In his new book The Way Into Chaos, Book One of The Great Way, Harry Connolly has somehow managed to do this. Before I put on my writer hat, let me speak as a reader:
More hardboiled than the Dresden Files, Connolly’s take on the UF genre has a delicious bleakness to it. His hero faces not just a nihilistic a-human magical world with shades of Lovecraft (…more grown up, more disquieting; you could almost call it Atheist Urban Fantasy) but also the bleaker corners of America. His mean streets and bedeviled small towns are as alienating as the magic, not leather-jacket-cool, not picket-fence cozy. His magic feels real in a maggots-under-the-skin way, and his horror elements throw into relief the things we truly care about. The plot and pacing meanwhile makes what could be an emotional battering into an adventure.