by Lisa Smedman

Tesseract Books


266pp/$14.95/July 2004

The Apparition Trail
James Beveridge

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Lisa Smedman has staked out an underdescribed region for her alternate history fantasy The Apparition Trail.  Her main character,  Corporal Marmaduke Grayburn, is apparently the first of the North-West Mountain Police to have been killed in action.  In Smedman's novel, however, Grayburn was not killed and five years later he has been tapped to join Q Division of the force.

The survival of Constable Grayburn is not the only difference between the 1884 Smedman describes and the one which our own world went through.  A comet has struck a glancing blow to the moon in this timeline, allowing it to remain in orbit, but changing its rotation so that over the course of several years, it shows its complete surface to the Earth.  This celestial change appears to be linked in some manner to the increase in magical events in the North-West Territories of Canada.

As a recruit to the newly formed Q Division, Grayburn is assigned to look into the disappearance of a missionary family.  As he looks into it, it quickly becomes apparent that there are supernatural forces at work.  Grayburn's continued investigations reveal that the isolated disappearance may portend much more deadly and far-ranging consequences stemming from a potential war against the Europeans by the combined might of the native tribes.

Grayburn is a loner whose personality fits in with the scarcity of population in the North-West Territories of the time.  When he does come into contact with others, whether Indian chiefs or constables, he reveals little of himself to them even though Grayburn is telling the story in the first person.  Although this doesn't make for the most riveting interpersonal interactions, it entirely fits Smedman's story.  Interestingly, civilians seem to be completely non-existent in Smedman's world, although she does explain what may have happened to many of the civilians.

The Apparition Trail provides an interesting, if sometimes perplexing, story which successfully mixes fantasy and history.  Early on, the reader learns that nothing in Marmaduke Grayburn's world is exactly what it appears.  Whether it is a question of Grayburn's own identity or the reality of events which are occurring to him, Smedman keeps her readers guessing.  Grayburn often moves from the solid world in which we live into a fantastic world of dreams and spirits.  It is not always clear to either Grayburn or the reader when these transitions occur which is as once confusing, but also more realistic than books in which there is a clear demarcation between the two realms.

Smedman does an excellent job of creating a frontier society which is quite different from the typical frontier society of cowboys, madams and Indians which seem to populate so many Westerns.  Her world, with its perpetual motion machines, magic, and Victorian sensibilities is a breath of fresh air which invites the reader in and welcomes them even as it warns them that this world is as harsh and unforgiving as any other.

Purchase this book from Amazon Books.

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