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The Lost Ones by Christopher Golden

01/05/2009. Contributed by Paul Skevington

Buy The Lost Ones in the USA - or Buy The Lost Ones in the UK

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pub: Bantam Spectra. 427 page enlarged paperback. Price: $12.00 (US), $15.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-38328-7. Bantam Spectra. 427 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $ 7.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-58780-7.

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'The Lost Ones' is the final volume of what has been a very entertaining series of books, trading as it does in ideas that have become familiar to readers of modern fantasy. The series concerns a group of individuals who discover that there is a veil separating our reality from the world of myths and legends; therefore we immediately expect that this land of the Other will at some point intrude upon the stability of the functional norm. True to form, the twins, Oliver and Collette Bascombe, discover that they are destined to tear this veil down, introducing a motif of prophesy commonly found in 'high' fantasy.

The role of 'The Lost Ones' is to allow these two tropes to come together, to end the adventure in such a way that it does not betray the promise of its origins. To a large extent, Christopher Golden is successful in this endeavour and there is little doubt that the majority of readers will feel that the enterprise has been deftly completed. Like the aftermath of a family holiday, the tents have been neatly put away and the camping gear stowed safely, ready for their next outing.

'The Lost Ones' is, however, problematic in this regard. Although it is nearly as enjoyable as its predecessors, something has come loose along the way, leaving bits of material flapping in the breeze. Simply put, this modern take on the fantasy novel relies on the underpinning verisimilitude of the everyday sequences, which are then altered by the intrusion of the realm of the numinous. The first book of the series, 'The Myth Hunters', handled this well by beginning in a world recognisably our own, then moving the focus of the narrative to the country beyond the veil. This was reinforced by periodic journeys between the two locales.

This technique of vacillating oddity is not only present in the depiction of the environment, but also in its relationship to the characters themselves. We see the magical world through the eyes of what we at first perceive to be entirely un-magical characters and thus come to a kind of compromise with the chaotic landscape that they travel through. It is a long established device that provides the reader with untroubled access to the wildness of the author's visions by virtue of easy identification with the protagonists.

By the time the reader reaches 'The Lost Ones', the foundations of this structure are starting to become decidedly unsound. There are no significant excursions into the mundane world. It has moved towards a narrative of accommodation rather than of cultural conflict, of travellers far removed from a home which is becoming less and less relevant to their existence with every moment that passes. This is especially true of the Bascombe twins, who no longer have any meaningful ties to their land of origin now that their father is dead and Oliver's fiancée, Julianna, has herself crossed the veil.

The twins spend a large portion of the start of the tale incarcerated, resulting in the source of any motive force being left in the hands of secondary characters, each of them native to the world beyond the veil. Therefore they are intrinsically comfortable with what they observe there and are unsuited to performing the dramatic role that the twins originally fulfilled.

When the twins do finally escape from their imprisonment, it is as a result of the discovery of their inherited magical natures, passed down to them via their mother, who they now know was a native of the magical world. This means that for the reader the twins no longer provide a gateway to the entrancements of the mythic lands as they have become legendary creatures themselves, leaving Julianna as the only baseline character for the readers to identify with. So we simultaneously have the emotive rewards of a prophecy fulfilled coupled with the necessary reduction in the familiarising function of the protagonists. Now that it has been put away, it is discovered that not all of the gear is in quite the same shape that it used to be.

In clarification, it is not the case that every novel needs to have this sense of familiarity to engage us, but here the dichotomy between known and unknown has been the engine that has propelled the series forward. It is not easy to change this dynamic so near the end of the piece without producing some unsettling effects. This can be seen by examining the nature of the fantastical land itself; the majority of its creatures and peoples are myths and legends from our world, there is a sense of connectivity even in these strange beings that proved very alluring in the first few volumes. As the conflict of the series increases to its final apocalyptic levels, the creatures lose some of their iconographic power and become little more than odd beings with super-powers. For this to energise the story, it would need to have been presented this way originally, without the linkages to our world that are by now essential to the conversation of the novel.

The pieces of this book that work best are the sections that deal with the fallout of the recognisable adapting to the wondrous. Ted Haliwell's struggle to come to terms with his newly attained tri-consciousness, the result of his accidental merging with the legendary creatures known as The Dustman and The Sandman, is almost a perfect metaphor for the series' aspirations. The interplay between Ted and his daughter is some of the most interesting material presented here. The fox spirit Kitsune continues to fascinate as she deals with her love for Oliver and its aftermath. Her uncaring trickster nature wars with all too human emotions that she has never previously been forced to contend with.

Jack Frost, that elemental winter sprite, is still an intriguingly ambiguous character, blending a cold determination with the warmth of his friendship for Oliver. In fact, it is the very things that made the first book such as triumph that save 'The Lost Ones' in the end, so that whilst the novel is not a complete success, it is nonetheless an apt conclusion to the saga.

Paul Skevington

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