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Queenmagic, Kingmagic by Ian Watson

01/12/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Queenmagic, Kingmagic in the USA - or Buy Queenmagic, Kingmagic in the UK

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pub: Immanion Press. 194 page enlarged paperback. Price: 9.99 (UK), $19.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-904853-66-4.

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All of us have played board games as children. Many would have been given, usually at Christmas, a compendium of games, intended to keep us quiet. We may have started off with things like Snakes And Ladders or Ludo but progress to more challenging games such as Monopoly and Risk. All board games are competitive, none more so than Chess or Go which can be regarded as strategic warfare.

A number of authors have based stories or novels around chess games and one of the best known is John Brunner's 'The Squares Of The City'. In 'Queenmagic, Kingmagic' (first published in 1986), Ian Watson begins part-way through a chess game but uses a radically different approach. This is a fantasy world in which the royal courts of the cities of Bellogard and Chorny are at war with each other. Only certain members of the court have full souls and can do magic. Each plans and executes attacks on the other's court. Already, each city has lost important members. For the people who live in the cities and the countryside, the rumour is that once the king is taken, the world will end.

Pedino was born to a pipemaker and his wife in the town of Bellogard. After an incident in which a school fellow dies, he is tested and found to have a full soul. He is the missing pawn-squire and is taken to the palace to learn how to use his magic. All is peaceful for several years when he is sent into the darker districts of the city in search of a spy. Being a young man and needing a reason to keep frequenting the district, he takes up with a young whore, Sara, and falls in love with her. When the magical attack comes, Pedino is shocked to find that Sara is a spy and pawn-squire for the other side. Preparations have to be made for a counter-attack which is likely to lead to the end game and the end of the world.

There are rumours of other worlds elsewhere in the cosmos and Pedino, and Sara with whom he has been reunited, determine to try and escape the inevitable death throes of their world.

Watson has carefully crafted a world in which chess moves are an integral part of society and where the magical hierarchy believes they are controlling events. Games can last centuries in the subjective world of the board, though obviously not to the players. As Pedino and Sara are catapulted into different game worlds, the people living there have a rational for what happens. Snakes snatch up and disgorge people into the lower echelons of society but also ladders are provided for advancement. Watson also takes them into a Monopoly and a Go game. The features they have in common are the competitive nature of the game, reflected in the lifestyles of the inhabitants of the board. Also, that once the game is won, the world ends, but can be set up again for another game.

The format of this novel is timeless and is as fresh now as when it was originally written. If the characters seem under-developed, it should be remembered that they are only pieces on a game board and the overall effect is a lot of fun, especially in the last third of the book.

Pauline Morgan

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