Anatopsis

Title: Anatopsis

Author: Chris Abouzeid

Princess Anatopsis is one of the Immortal, who can wield magic—and what’s more, she’s the daughter of the most powerful witch in the world. But at her thirteenth birthday, she’s given a new tutor, Mr. Pound. Mr. Pound is dark and sinister, but her mother refuses to believe anything is wrong with him. Anatopsis will need to rely on her own power and her friends to uncover what Mr. Pound is, what he wants, and how to stop him.

The story is set on an Earth so polluted by magic and its aftereffects that only one small portion is even habitable, so the environmental themes were bound to come up, but the way they were handled was rather puzzling and heavy-handed. The stance seemed to be that magic is bad because it pollutes things, both through creating athen, a matter antithetical to magic, and through the discards of spells that civilization doesn’t bother to clean up but rather tosses into the ocean. And why a civilization that can easily transport themselves into space via magic is tossing their magical waste into a perfectly good ocean rather than jettisoning it to space is left as an exercise to the reader. Although a number of mythological creatures like dryads and centaurs get casual mention, apparently there weren’t any sea creatures around to protest.

The plot holes extend to the characters. Anatopsis is introduced as a prodigy, but most of her spells fail with some rather interesting side effects. And she’s downright unlikeable. Some of this, to be sure, is the result of having a mother who acts like she’s God and expects the universe to cooperate, and whose expectations for her daughter are to follow in her footsteps. This is challenged somewhat by Clarissa, who is a friend rather than a servant, but at the end of the story Anatopsis appears equally put out that she’s consigned herself to be “ordinary” as she is that Clarissa, her best and for the longest time only friend of many years, is dead. And she never bothers thinking about what “ordinary” means other than I can’t snap my fingers and make things happen anymore. And why does Anatopsis’s fanatically thorough mother not care that the servant she got for her daughter doesn’t even clean her daughter’s room, when everyone else she employs is scared stiff of her? Or for that matter, why does she continue to simply throw Clarissa in the dungeons for her pranks when numerous more effective options are available?

Barnaby is a little better—at least he’s more sympathetic. But he comes bundled with Uno, who is the only dog in existence and a pureblooded St. Bernard. The implication later on is that he was created like the other talking animals, but if that was true, then why isn’t Mr. Pound as interested in him and/or his maker as he is in Anatopsis for the mice she creates that supposedly make her unique? Even as a puppy, the dog is way bigger than a mouse. And unless I missed something, the woman who created him wasn’t even Immortal, just someone who picked up magic by being exposed to rather large quantities over a short period of time. Surely she would have at least the potential of being the last fragment that Mr. Pound is looking for?

On a personal level, I wasn’t comfortable with what happened to Clarissa. The later half of the book seems designed to wring as much pain as possible out of her before she dies.

The worldbuilding is haphazard. Anatopsis mostly sees the her mother’s castle, a park, and a segment of the ghetto. It would have been nice to go further afield, even if only in the form of stories of her father’s adventures. The competition at the end for Anatopsis—no rules are explained, so I presume the winner is the last one standing. And there’s no protection for the crowd, yet apparently this is a hugely popular event, when the audience suffers heavy casualties, and apparently they all just want to sit and watch the rest of the match with fingers crossed that they won’t be affected. Or how the evolutionary cycle could be sped up so much for everything in the biodomes except Anatopsis and her father—he was mortal, right? not to mention the absurdity of claiming evolution is simply generating complete species like dinosaurs and not all the in-between steps the theory requires to be functional, most of which would be some form of nightmarish blob-monster… and these all take the same direction as Earth’s species because of hand-waving…

So . . . this isn’t something I would recommend, but the story felt blase rather than outright bad. It’s certainly not one I’m ever going to read again. I rate this book Neutral.

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