Catalyst Moon: Incursion
Lauren L. Garcia
Kali is a mage, born with the power to sense and manipulate the magical particles of the universe. Imprisoned for life for her poorly understood abilities, Kali’s highest hope for herself is to be reunited with her childhood friend and fellow mage, Eris, who claims to know someone who can heal the chronic pain in her leg.
Stonewall is a sentinel, sworn to protect the outside world from the dangers of mage powers, and addicted to a substance that makes him immune to the effects of magic. During a routine mission escorting Kali on her long-awaited transfer, an attack by possessed bandits leaves the two of them adrift from the rest of Stonewall’s squad and dependent on each other for survival.
Apart from a minor sprinkling of typos and some bland or lacking visual descriptions, Incursion’s only real drawback is the episodic slightness of Kali and Stonewall’s plot. They travel toward their destination and find themselves faced with a problem that must be solved by one of their skillsets or the other. Then they travel some more, and another, often similar problem springs up.
The journey nevertheless serves its purpose of bonding the two characters, to the point where the end of the road becomes a swelling source of dread. That, combined with Eris’s more urgent subplot of escape attempts, makes any plot weakness on Kali’s side easy to ignore.
In its extensive depiction of powerful women, Incursion is a remarkable blend of incisive commentary and freedom from old patterns. When deciding how women are treated in a fictional universe, female authors typically have to choose between writing what we know or writing what we wish for. Both strategies have their place, but rarely does an author manage to combine the two as effectively as Garcia.
There is no sexual inequality or stigma within the Catalyst Moon universe (as far as we know in this installment). Mages are female as often as male. Sentinels are female as often as male. Random bandit warriors are female as often as male. Characters in positions of authority are female as often as male. Some characters have relationship hangups, but no one seems to be afraid of sex or think of it as a weapon. This is all so normal that no one even feels the need to mention it.
And yet, the story is about a mage who happens to be female, and a sentinel who happens to be male.
Mages are hated for being born in a way they didn’t choose, excluded from participating in society, ridiculed for being enigmatic but discouraged from learning or teaching anything about themselves, resented for being necessary, required to use their abilities on demand, distrusted for using them at all, and often told how lucky they are to be taken care of.
Sentinels are raised on rhetoric of duty, honor, tradition, and emotional repression. They’re taught that their role is divinely ordained, that mage magic is evil and scary and theirs to control, that they’re doing the world a grand service in their custodianship of the mages, and that abusing their own bodies and minds into an early grave is a small price to pay for being able to pass as beacons of strength.
I sense a metaphor — a metaphor that carries over strikingly into the challenges the pair faces, as they struggle to forge a meaningful understanding between them.
As a social critique, as a forbidden romance of opposites, as an intriguing fantasy world, as an introduction to an epic to come, and as everything else it sets out to be, Catalyst Moon: Incursion is a page-turning delight that has me already digging into its sequel.
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