Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Review: Tales of MU

Tales of MU is a fantasy serial. So far, I've read books one and two, and at the time of this writing, book three is coming out in regular installments. This is one of the most enjoyable Web serials I have yet read; it might be the best. The writing style is smooth and clean and at a professional level of competence. The characters are likable and pleasurable to follow. The storyline has some "adult" situations, but those situations are not the reason for the storyline. In other words, the tale has the occasional erotic scene, but overall it is not erotica. There is a lot of humor in the narrative, but again, it isn't a comedy. The closest brief description is probably fantasy bildungsroman.

The main character and narrator is a young woman attending a university for the first time after being reared in a small town by a strict grandmother. It is not an original concept, but most fiction concepts aren't, and the author handles it skillfully and keeps the reader wanting to find out what happens next.

The author is unafraid to tackle heavy themes--free will, freedom of choice, nontraditional lifestyles, sexual morality, et cetera--but does it in a light-handed manner that leaves the reader feeling unpummeled. No side in a complex dispute is ever declared all right and the other all wrong.

The setting is a prestigious public university apparently located in the fantasy analog of the contemporary United States. The technology of the society is powered by magic, and our high technology is considered fantasy. (The author has not yet explained how legends of science have entered the setting's culture.) Equivalents of the Internet, telephones, recreational pharmaceuticals, mass transit, and Wal-Mart exist. Weaponry, though, seems to rely on muscle power.

Furthermore, it looks as if all of the popular intelligent races from mythology and fantasy fiction--elves, dwarves, nymphs, giants, and so on--are assumed to exist, and many can crossbreed with humans. Again, the concept isn't original, but it is well handled. Many of the in-jokes are based on Dungeons-and-Dragons style fantasy role-playing games. Humans apparently are the dominant race, and racism is a running theme, but like the author's other difficult subjects, it is deftly handled.

The story is not for everyone. Obviously, a reader who does not like fantasy will have little use for the serial. Be aware that it is a serial in every sense of the word, and the pace is slow by the internal clock of the story. I have probably read more than a hundred thousand words of the narrative, and I don't believe two-weeks of story time have yet passed. Readers who read to get to the end, therefore, will hate it. For all I know, the author does not yet have an end in mind. On the other hand, the protagonist and her new friends are undergoing so many personal changes that the pace does not feel slow.

Another thing to beware of is that sexual self-discovery is one of the themes. Some of the characters, college freshmen on their own for the first time, are exploring lesbianism and bisexuality. An important character is transgendered. BDSM, mostly light, is an ongoing topic. The sex scenes aren't especially graphic, but they aren't just glossed over, either. Harry Potter this ain't. Readers looking for stroke material, however, will doubtless find too much story in between sex scenes.

I suggest that fantasy readers not put off by the above warnings give the serial a try. Those who have been burned by infrequently updated installments of other Web serials need not fear. The author is one of those fortunate souls blessed with a high writing speed and is turning out, roughly, an impressive ten thousand words of lucid prose per week. Recommended.

The overall website is here.

The beginning of the narrative can be found here.