|Jeanne Cavelos, Babylon 5: Casting Shadows|
Rey (Paperback), ISBN 0-345-42721-1
If you're reading this review, chances are you know the Babylon 5 universe so well that you can recite the color of Londo's underwear. So I don't need to waste time explaining the Shadows, why they pose such a threat to the universe, or the choice the techno-mages ultimately make.
Cavelos knows you know all this, so Casting Shadows, thankfully, doesn't bog down in repetition. The book fills in gaps left unexplained in the television series, including why the mages acted the way they did. The book also covers, in heart-rending detail, the backstory of Galen, featured techno-mage in the firefly-like B5 spin-off, Crusade.
In November 2258, Galen stands on the verge of initiation as a fully empowered techno-mage. His teacher, Elric, one of the order's leaders, admonishes him to stretch his techno-magical wings and conjure spells to express his inmost self, since that forms the core of the mages' operating philosophy.
Still struggling to cope with the accidental deaths of his parents, 11 years prior, Galen nonetheless strives to please Elric, whom he loves as much as a father as a mentor. Galen's unique spell language, fueled by mathematical equations, leads him to discover a spell that indeed expresses himself -- and gives him the capability to wield vast destructive power. Which could come in quite handy against the Shadows. However, the rampantly pacifistic techno-mage leaders make Galen vow never to activate that spell again, upon pain of expulsion from the order and the certain death that would result.
The order sends Galen and Isabelle, another newly initiated techno-mage, to unearth incontrovertible proof of the Shadows' actions. The nature and extent of the Shadows' operations comes as much of a surprise to Galen as the fact that he finds himself falling in love with Isabelle. When their investigation puts Galen and Isabelle directly into the line of fire, his vow comes under fire, too.
I knock off half a point for a key issue that remained unresolved at the end of the book, with no indication that it might be revisited in the next installment. But I judge that a relatively minor infraction compared with the sheer magical and emotional wonder conveyed by Casting Shadows, and I eagerly anticipate its sequel.
Kim D. Headlee
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