Indigo Springs: A different approach to fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews A.M. Dellamonica Indigo SpringsIndigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica

Indigo Springs is the first novel by A.M. Dellamonica, who has been publishing short fiction for nearly two decades. It shows the skill of someone who has long practiced in making words do what she wants them to do, and also the inexperience of a first-time novelist who has a great idea but doesn’t exactly know how to execute it. It’s a terrific story with new ideas and a unique magic system that works. With a stronger structure and a more coherent ending, Indigo Springs would have been a contender for major prizes. As it stands, it is fun to read and offers great promise of even better work to come.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks, a tale told by a prisoner to a law enforcement agent who has been tasked with finding out where the prisoner’s dangerous friend might be and what can be done to stop her. The agent, Will Forrest, tells us his portion of the tale, which takes place in the present, in the first person. The flashbacks are told in a third person voice, with the prisoner, Astrid, as the viewpoint character. Astrid has recently returned to her hometown, Indigo Springs, to live in the house she has inherited from her father. Her stepbrother Jackson, an artist, also lives in the house; and soon her best friend Sahara arrives, on the run from her cheating boyfriend in the car she has stolen from him.

Astrid’s relationships with her two housemates are complicated. Jacks is in love with her, and she is in love with Sahara, who uses that love to manipulate her. This would be bad enough in a real-life situation, but it gets incredibly complicated when you add magic to the mix. Astrid has long been a magic apprentice, but she has mostly forgotten about her father’s work with her and vitagua, an indigo blue liquid that is the essence of magic. Her memories start to return when she discovers her father’s cache of “chantments,” small items that have been enchanted to accomplish magic tasks, such as a lipstick that makes the wearer beautiful or a scrub brush that cleans a kitchen all by itself, a la The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Soon Astrid is using vitagua to make more and more chantments, which Sahara is sending around the country to those who might be able to tell them more about how magic works.

But Astrid ultimately doesn’t need all the advice Sahara is gathering from real witches all over the United States. A fireplace repair ruptures, spreading vitagua all over the house, contaminating Sahara and filling Astrid to the brim as she absorbs it into her body. Now Astrid knows exactly what the realm of the unreal is, and voices are giving her full information on the past, present and future. She begins to have difficulty knowing which is which, and her confusion allows Sahara to recontaminate herself.

The frame for the novel, in which Astrid is a federal prisoner telling her story to a cop, lets us know that Sahara uses the magic for evil rather than good, and also that magic can get completely out of hand, transforming plant and vegetable life into unmanageable entities that are inimical to humans. How we get from Astrid rediscovering magic to the outbreak of magic that threatens the human race and destroys Will’s family, however, is not described with the loving detail lavished on the early part of the story, which is disappointing. But Dellamonica tells the story of Astrid’s gradual reintroduction to magic with true panache, making for a very enjoyable read.

As the book approaches its conclusion, things become very vague indeed. The conclusion is rushed and unsatisfactory. It appears that the story isn’t intended to truly end with this book, as Dellamonica has written a sequel, Blue Magic, to be published in April 2012. If it’s as good as Indigo Springs, with the added advantage of actually finishing this tale, it’ll definitely be a winner. I await it eagerly.

~Terry Weyna


fantasy book reviews A.M. Dellamonica Indigo SpringsIndigo Springs is the first novel by established and accomplished short story writer A.M Dellamonica. In the house she inherited from her father, Astrid finds a cache of enchanted objects and a vial of viscous blue fluid called vitagua or “spirit water.” Along with her stepbrother Jacks and her best friend Sahara, Astrid soon realizes that she is a protector of the blue liquid, and that the house is built over a well of it, a portal to a magical universe. She is of a long line of well-tappers or guardians. Astrid must master the use of vitagua, fight off external enemies and deal with the shocking changes vitagua makes in her friends, as well as learn vital lessons about responsibility and power if she, and the world as we know it, is to survive.

The dialogue alone in this book reassures us that we are in the hands of a pro. Two things stand out: the descriptions of the “spirit water” and the depiction of the three main characters. Astrid, Jacks and Sahara are vividly realized and interact like real people, even if we don’t have physical descriptions of them. Their history, strengths and flaws are revealed in a convincing manner.

Dellamonicas use of a “frame” story and narrative flashbacks to create a how-did-we-get-here sense of urgency is not completely successful, at times throwing off the pacing and turning a potentially strong ending into a mere sequel set-up. Overall, though, this is a different approach to fantasy, and a suspenseful, compelling read with characters I care about. I certainly will seek out the second book when it is published in the spring. As a bonus, Indigo Springs has an exquisite and intriguing cover.

~Marion Deeds


fantasy book reviews A.M. Dellamonica Indigo SpringsIndigo Springs is the first book in the INDIGO SPRINGS duology by A.M. Dellamonica. While there is a lot to enjoy in each, neither book really drove me to the finish and throughout the entire work there was a constant nagging issue I just couldn’t shake. I’m clearly the outlier in our stable of reviewers, however, so you might want to look over the rest of our reviews of Dellamonica’s work before taking my word on it.

Indigo Springs introduces us to Astrid, who upon returning to her hometown of Indigo Springs discovers a powerful source of magic with which she can enchant objects and people. She experiments with this source, eventually dragging in some of the most important people in her life: her housemate and longtime friend Jacks (who loves her and whom she kinda sorta likes/loves but maybe not in that way or maybe so), her other housemate and longtime friend Sahara (whom Astrid does love but who only kinda sorta likes/loves Astrid in that way though she certainly loves herself a lot more), and her mother who is having some sort of mental breakdown in which she sees herself as Astrid’s father (who is dead, but who also was connected to the magical fluid Astrid discovered). Eventually Astrid, Sahara, and Jacks have conflicts over what is to be done with the magical power they’ve discovered, secrets are kept, more is learned about the source and what the magic is and does, and tragedy ensues.

The novel has an intriguing structure. We begin with Astrid being interrogated in a government super-secure prison by Will Forrest, a government negotiator. How Astrid found the magic, how Jacks and Sahara got involved, how its impact spread beyond them to other townspeople like Astrid’s mother and Jack’s father, then others outside of town such as Sahara’s ex-boyfriend, then beyond the town itself to the entire country is told via a series of flashbacks. I thought the structure was a good choice as it added some suspense and kept the reader on his/her toes throughout. What added some spice to the usual flashback is that Astrid is somewhat adrift in time, and so we also get some flashforwards — literally flashes almost, as they come typically in a matter of a few words or sentences as Astrid wonders aloud just when she is. While I enjoyed the structure as a concept, I have to say at times it lacked in its execution, sometimes improving the story’s impact and at other times hindering it.

The characters were a mixed bag for me. I found Astrid the most interesting, but she was too passive and I can’t say I really cared overmuch what happened to her. Jacks was mostly a blank slate for me, a role to fill rather than a fully created character. And Sahara was just a bit too on the nose in terms of playing the villain. The side characters had little to endear me to them and I’ll admit to some small annoyance over the frequency with which their “otherness” was pointed out. I’m all for diversity, but at times it felt like there was a checklist approach here: homosexual — check, bisexual — check, transsexual — check, Native American — check, African-American — check. They drew attention to themselves not merely by their presence but by the way they were pointed out as clearly a “type.” I didn’t mind their presence, just the lack of subtlety.

At times Indigo Springs lacked detail and seemed to move from scene to scene via summary, or scenes that moved plot but didn’t really express plot if that makes sense. This, combined with the relatively weak characters, made the book less compelling than I felt it should have been. Behind all this was the power of the magic itself, which always seemed too strong to me, in the sense that I never shook the feeling that things could have turned out so much better and so much easier had they just “done this or this or that” with the magic, which seemed wholly possible. Which was too bad, as I really liked the basic concept of the magic and its use as an enchantment mechanism rather than a personal spell-using kind of magic. But it just didn’t feel like it was precise or controlled enough as a plot device.

One of my personal gauges for how much I enjoy a book is how many sittings it takes me to finish, how many times I put a book down and how long it is before I pick it up again. I did put down Indigo Springs several times and it took me about two weeks to finish, a very long time for me. I was interested to see what happened to get Astrid to the point of being interrogated, but not all that driven to find out. There was enough here in terms of good writing (and the writing was mostly a strong point throughout both books and concepts) that I’d pick up another book by Dellamonica. But it’s hard for me to heartily recommend either Indigo Springs as a standalone or an entryway into the duology.

~Bill Capossere


fantasy book reviews A.M. Dellamonica Indigo SpringsAstrid is a wizard-well tapper — she can access the vitagua, or spirit water, that is the essence of magic. However, her ability to control the liquid is unstable, and the more she uses it, the more unstable she becomes, losing her grasp on time and reality. Pushed too far by friends who want to use the magic for their own ends, her control slips, and she unleashes the magical equivalent of a nuclear holocaust in her small town. Somehow, she has to figure out how to pick up the pieces and make things right.

I remember watching the Dungeons and Dragons movie in the theater and being completely disappointed in it, and then seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon shortly thereafter and thinking, “This is what Dungeons and Dragons should have been.” While reading Indigo Springs, I kept thinking, “This is what the X-Files movie should have been.” Indigo Springs reads like an episode of X-Files in the best possible sense, masterfully conveying the sense that your version of reality is a very thin veneer over a terrifying truth. Told through a dual series of flashbacks, A.M. Dellamonica builds a remarkable amount of tension that builds throughout the story, as Astrid is being questioned by military officers who are trying to figure out what to do about Sahara, one of Astrid’s friends, who has set herself up as an avenging goddess of the environment with her new magical abilities. The explanation for the existence of magic and its disappearance over the centuries taps into historical reality in a way that makes this book feel more like science fiction than the fantasy novel it is. The characters are well drawn, and the sniping between Astrid’s friends as they compete for her attention and abilities resonates believably.

However, Dellamonica struggles with maintaining that tension. The story fizzles a little towards the end, as the flashbacks unfold with little new to reveal that hasn’t been hinted at before. The final showdown, however, is appropriately dramatic, as Astrid takes responsibility for all that she has let loose on the world. There are also some jumps in the story that aren’t well explained — the wrapping up of the Marlowe story line seems rushed and illogical; gaining memories from touching objects isn’t well explained either — and some abilities manifest inconsistently, such as Astrid’s ability to control the vitagua in her own body.

All in all, Indigo Springs is a gripping read with an interesting take on the creation of magical artifacts, and the history of magical abilities in this world. I am looking forward to seeing what Dellamonica does with the next installment of this series. Recommended for fans of contemporary fantasy.

~Ruth Arnell

Indigo Springs — (2009-2012) Publisher: Indigo Springs is a sleepy town where things seem pretty normal… until Astrid’s father dies and she moves into his house. She discovers that for many years her father had been accessing the magic that flowed, literally, in a blue stream beneath the earth, leaking into his house. When she starts to use the liquid “vitagua” to enchant everyday items, the results seem innocent enough: a “’chanted” watch becomes a charm that means you’re always in the right place at the right time; a “’chanted” pendant enables the wearer to convince anyone of anything… But as events in Indigo Springs unfold and the true potential of vitagua is revealed, Astrid and her friends unwittingly embark on a journey fraught with power, change, and a future too devastating to contemplate. Friends become enemies and enemiesbecome friends as Astrid discovers secrets from her shrouded childhood that will lead her to a destiny stranger than she could have imagined…

fantasy book reviews A.M. Dellamonica Indigo Springsfantasy book reviews A.M. Dellamonica Indigo Springs 2. Blue Magic

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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