I had no idea what I was getting into when I started The Obsidian Blade, the first book in a new science fiction series by Pete Hautman. From the jacket copy, I expected some sort of time travel story where the protagonist would have to go backward or forward in time in order to save the world, or at least save the people he loves. That’s part of it, but what I actually got was much, much more.
When Tucker Feye was thirteen, his preacher father climbed onto the roof of their house and disappeared. He reappeared sometime later, walking down the lane with a strange girl named Lahlia in tow, but he wasn’t the same. He was distant, and he had lost his faith. Soon after, Tucker’s mother began to lose her grip on reality.
Later, both of Tucker’s parents disappear, gone through the strange shimmery orb above their home, and Tucker vows to find them. This sets him on a journey both backward and forward in time, including such times/places as the death of Christ, a ritual sacrifice at the top of a futuristic pyramid, and his own town thousands of years in the future, unrecognizable and strange. He meets benevolent people who try to help him, murderous people who try to kill him, and strange people/non-people who may be trying to help and harm him at the same time.
The Obsidian Blade is a crazy book, and I mean that in a good way. It’s full of time travel and aliens (maybe?) and robots (maybe?) and new religions and cultures and disease and futuristic technology, and it presents the reader with all of this in such a way that every page is a new discovery of something bizarrely fascinating. It’s so solidly science fiction that it makes other “science fiction” books seem like impostors.
Part of the reason Hautman is able to make the book so compelling is that he doesn’t hold the reader’s hand as he tells the story. There’s no big info-dump from a wizened mentor or an intrusive narrator who kindly explains everything to the reader. For the entirety of the book, Tucker is pretty much at a loss as to what’s going on. He’s feeling his way as best he can, and we as readers are right there with him, confused and concerned but needing to know what happens next. Obviously, this can be a drawback for some readers – I know some who like to know exactly what’s going on as they read. If you are that reader, this book is not for you.
Hautman does commit the cardinal sin of not giving this first installment any real ending. I’ve chosen to forgive him for this, because every time I turned the page, I read something that made me exclaim “What?!” (and I do mean audibly). I loved how strange this book was, how otherworldly it was despite the fact that it is, in fact, set in this world. Most of all, I loved how daring it was – that it dared to re-write the death of Christ, of all things. It was – and please forgive my language – just plain ballsy, and we need more of that in YA.
I read this book back in January and I’ve been wanting to write about it for months. It’s not a book for people who may be easily offended or who are wary about wading too deeply into the waters of SF. If you like your science fiction light, this isn’t for you. But if you dig bizarre stories full of sci fi elements that seem missing in so much of the popular YA SF being written today, you should really pick this up.
Review copy received from publisher. The Obsidian Blade will be published April 10.