Gabino Iglesias Reviews Mage of Fools by Eugen Bacon – Locus Online
Mage of FoolsEugen Bacon (Meerkat Press 978-1-94615-484-2, $ 15.95, 220pp, tp) May 2022. Cover by Tricia Reeks.
Eugen Bacons Mage of Fools is the kind of realistic science fiction narrative that at the same time manages to awe with its use of language and imagination and serve as a warning of what things can become.
Mafinga used to be a great place to live, a place where freedom of speech and freedom of thought were equally encouraged. Unfortunately, that changed, and Mafinga is now a dystopian place that looks like a prison. Jasmin, a young mother of two, is trapped in Mafinga. She spends her days working and regretting the actions of Mafinga’s dictator, who are all informed by the dictator’s wizard, Atari, a strange creature who appeared out of nowhere after a bizarre incident. Mafinga’s king hates books, stories and freedom of thought and expression. With the help of Atari, the king has made Mafinga a totalitarian state complete with the imprisonment of those who oppose him, the elimination of everything he dislikes, the killing of all men to prevent a revolt, and even ongoing executions. In the process, the king and Atari have made Jamin’s hometown an inhospitable, almost uninhabitable place devoid of everything she loved. Immersed in the dark, surrounded by oppression and mourning the death of her husband Godis, Jasmin finds solace in her children and in Godi’s secret story machine, which she keeps hidden and uses regularly to hear stories of a much better world. Unfortunately, possession of the story machine is punishable by death, so when Jasmin is taken away and taken away, she is sure the end is near. Instead of being murdered, Jasmin finds herself working for the queen, who is childless and decides to take Jasmine’s children and treat them as her own. While it’s a welcome surprise to keep her life, losing her children is more than Jasmin is willing to take, and she will do anything to get the children back.
Mage of Fools is one of the poetic science fiction stories that draws readers into a unique world – a Bacon fills with myths, legends, memories and African elements. However, there is also a type of book that feels foresighted, as a warning wrapped in a story, which are some of the best fables. It is impossible to put down the book and then read about books that are banned and not see that while Bacon is obviously writing science fiction that takes place in a dystopian future, some of the problems she tackles have deep roots in both contemporary and historical problems. Because of this, the novel becomes more than a story about a mother who finds out how to use the secrets she learns to get her children back; it becomes a call to action that warns readers that we can all end up as Jasmine if we do not pay attention to the slowly creeping dystopian elements into our daily lives.
While Mage of Fools is a hybrid that is as much science fiction and dystopian fiction as it is a tale of survival and a celebration of love. What makes it a really enjoyable and unique reading experience is Bacon’s stylish prose. Bacon’s writing is always elegant, even when unpleasant things are discussed, but she occasionally injects what might otherwise have been ordinary passages with incredible images and beautiful language. The result is a story that is often read as a poem and passages that were already crucial, become even more impressive:
On days like this, she misses Godi. There are stories in her head, stories of his smell, intricate as a star, shining in this memory. There are no myths about his scent, its brightness, location or direction. Just the fiery dance of the legend at the end of a long, long night. His touch is a perfect constellation, mummified beyond an autumn sky.
Mage of Fools is about freedom and freedom of action and what happens when we lose these things. Removing men from the story means that characters like Godi can become ghosts, at the same time as the story is filled with smart, strong women. Standing on the shoulders of Bacon’s lyrical prose and its blend of high technology and folklore, this novel soars and helps cement Bacon, an internationally acclaimed author, as one of the most distinctive voices in modern science fiction.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor and book reviewer based in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote singer and the editor of Both sides. His work has been nominated for the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for best novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies, and his non-fiction has appeared in New York Timesit Los Angeles Timesand CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, selected for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weeklyit San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal element, Mystery Tribune, Vol 1 Brooklynit Los Angeles book review, and other print and online arenas. He has been a jury member for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, Splatterpunk Awards and Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.
This review and more like the June 2022 issue of Locus.
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