In The Authority, the second book by Ashley R. Carlson in the Charismatics series, steampunk, science fiction and fantasy collide in an unforgettable adventure of magic, intrigue, destiny, and a potentially collapsing universe.
Picking up directly where the first book left off, readers find themselves amid the wreckage of the dirigible crash where Duchess Ambrose and her rag-tag bunch of compatriots are choosing what to do next. Each has a special skill set, a particular ability based on Charisma, ranging from the ability to fly, becoming invisible, affecting the mind of others, seeing past facades or creating fire, among others.
Not only is the exposition of this supernatural world and its inhabitants thorough, but it is wildly creative, and each character is unique and well-developed. World building on this scale, as well as remaining unique from any other fantasy realm, is difficult to find during the genre’s current renaissance, but Carlson has a bold vision for this world.
Whereas Duchess Ambrose had a bit more innocence to her in the first book, here she is a hardened fighter, making more difficult and painful decisions, and facing the demons inside that have haunted her dreams for too long. Will she be the Authority that brings an end to the world? Or is she destined to save the world from the evil spread of Legalia? Should she trust in her friends or forge her own path to save her shape-shifting friend and guide, Roan? These questions and so many more plague this complex leading lady over the course of this novel, and while many are answered, plenty more are left hanging for a much-anticipated third book.
The underlying drama of the entire book is Ambrose’s own destiny, which may be as the ultimate Authority, destined to bring an end to the world. This wrinkle causes significant mental anguish and functions as a key plot point and motivator for everything Duchess Ambrose does. It also opens this book up into a spiritual and philosophical realm. In between all the fantastical details, this book is a personal examination of rather heavy themes, and Carlson isn’t afraid to let some of her heart bleed out on the pages. Writing Ambrose as a first-person character was an effective choice, causing readers to invest more closely in her as the heroine.
Within a single chapter, readers are immersed in this expansive world, and if they are armed with the experience of reading Book 1, they are already used to the energy, pace and constant stream of characters. Impressively, Carlson keeps everything straight – the varied plot lines, the overlapping motivations and schemes, as well as the movements of key characters – without ever confusing readers by jumping around too often.
Keeping a world like this under control, taking time to create an incredible main character, and infusing the best parts of multiple genres into every chapter is a task for a masterful writer. In The Authority, author Ashley R. Carlson proves that she deserves that title.
The Authority was the Silver Prize winner in the 2016 SPR Book Awards.
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