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Crystal Rain    by Tobias S. Buckell order for
Crystal Rain
by Tobias S. Buckell
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I read Crystal Rain in one long gulp, and it put Tobias S. Buckell high on my list of new writers to watch on the SF scene. It opens as jungle villagers follow the sound of thunder and a smoky trail to 'a weary looking man sitting on a steaming metal boulder.' They give him food and directions to Capitol City. He seeks a friend. The mystery of his identity carries through the story.

Next we meet a group of mongoose-men (bush warriors) on patrol in the Wicked High Mountains, where Mafolie Pass is a barrier between the people of Nanagada and the bloodthirsty Azteca. The latter are ruled by the teotl, who walk amongst them in a variety of forms and take a remarkably hands-on approach for deities. An Aztecan double (or triple?) agent named Oaxyctl informs the mongoose-men that the Azteca have spent a hundred years tunneling under the mountain and that their peaceful land is being invaded.

The people of this world know that their ancestors (many of whom remain in their midst as long-lived old-fathers) came through a worm-hole that closed behind them after terrible battles. The story's protagonist is John DeBrun, an ageless amnesiac pulled out of the sea by fishermen two decades before. He has made his home amongst the Nanagada, speaks their Caribbean-like dialect (which reads surprisingly easily), married Shanta, and has a son, Jerome. The Azteca invasion separates John from his family, whose fate remains unknown to him.

With the help of Oaxyctl, who has his own terrible agenda, John travels to Capitol City. Readers soon discover that he's sought by many, including teotl agents and the mysterious Pepper, who has remarkable fighting abilities. All seek DeBrun as the key to the Ma Wi Jung, a powerful lost technology. In Capitol City, we meet its young prime minister Dihana, and Haidan (John's old friend who leads the mongoose-men), who together lead the defense against the Azteca. Lurking in secret places of the city are relatively benign gods, the Loa.

Dihana and Haidan launch an expedition (led by John DeBrun) north to seek the Ma Wi Jung, as a last hope. It's plagued by enemy attacks, saboteurs, and mutiny, but eventually the reader learns about the old-fathers' origins, and of ongoing conflicts beyond the worm-hole that might yet reach through it. This story (clearly only the first in a series) has it all - seaborne, sky, and space conflicts, diverse cultures, old secrets, mysterious protagonists (human and alien), and a desperate race to save humanity. I can't wait for more!

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