The Fire Opal Mechanism: Lovely worldbuilding, an enjoyable read

The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde

Of course I’d be a sucker for any book with a brave librarian, and Fran Wilde’s 2019 novella, The Fire Opal Mechanism, has one such, along with a resourceful thief and a time travel device. This short book is an enjoyable read. I haven’t read The Jewel and Her Lapidary, a novella set in the same world. Probably some of the comments about the jewels will make more sense to people who have read that story, and there is a crossover character, but this novella does stand alone well.

Ania has been promoted to Master Archivist at the Far Reaches university library, after the previous archivist has vanished. As the story opens, she is frantically trying to hide books, and set aside others to sacrifice to the Pressmen, who seek to destroy all the universities and make “all knowledge available to everyone” via a single giant book called The Compendium, which updates itself magically as it absorbs new books and new knowledge. Readers may see a metaphor at play.

Ania is not as successful at fobbing off old books on the Pressmen as she hopes, and soon she has gone into hiding in the library, in a room behind the building’s immense clock. There she is discovered by Jorit, a desperate thief seeking enough money to get out of the kingdoms which have been united under the Pressmen’s grip. When Pressmen nearly find them, Ania grabs a secret part of the massive clock (a small clock itself) — and she and Jorit find themselves far from the library in distance… and in time, having traveled to the past.

In the story’s present, Xachar, who was a student, becomes a Pressman and is assigned to work with the Great Press. He soon discovers its secret, and after that he is the only one who can work on it. The press is powered by a jewel, and the jewel’s hunger for knowledge grows each day.The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

I was rooting for Ania and Jorit to win and bring back the power of knowledge and books in the story’s present. In the past they view a time where the Pressmen were benign, and the professors at the universities were clinging to power. Ania observes that neither side was right. Well, neither side was right, but in the present tense the Great Press is eating books, so it’s pretty clear whose side I was on. The time travel machine houses a jewel — an ancient, powerful one, and the two women must learn to communicate with it if they are ever to return to their own time and save knowledge.

Ania is slightly better drawn than Jorit, but both characters are pleasant, and their dilemmas seem real. Since this seems to be generations after the fall of the valley of magic jewels, I was a little surprised that neither woman seemed concerned about Ania’s relationship with the fire opal at the heart of the clock. The romance between the two women does not develop on the page. It is prophesied, then at the end they are happily together. This made me think that their love is needed for future stories in this world.

A running subplot throughout the novella is a transcript of a hearing held at the university, which I found baffling, although most likely it, like the romance, sets up events for future works.

The Fire Opal Mechanism is not deep or provocative, but it’s a fun read, good for a lazy afternoon or a weekend trip.

Published in 2019. The Fire Opal Mechanism is the fast-paced and lively sequel to Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary. Jewels and their lapidaries and have all but passed into myth. Jorit, broke and branded a thief, just wants to escape the Far Reaches for something better. Ania, a rumpled librarian, is trying to protect her books from the Pressmen, who value knowledge but none of the humanity that generates it. When they stumble upon a mysterious clock powered by an ancient jewel, they may discover secrets in the past that will change the future forever.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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2 comments

  1. I loved the world-building in The Jewel and her Lapidary but had some trouble with the characterization and plot.

    • I’d say I had the same reaction here. The two main characters were pleasant, not deep. My biggest disappointment was that we did see the romance blossom.

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