The Luck of Madonna 13
by E.T. Ellison
Published by Wynderry Press
408 pages, 2002
Editor's Note: Since this review was published, the publisher of The Luck of Madonna 13 contacted us to let us know that the book is now quite widely available.
The Luck of Finding a Copy
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
It's not enough to want to read The Luck of Madonna 13, you really have to work at it. You can't, for example, just stroll down to your local bookstore and grab a copy. Nor can you, as far as I can tell, surf over to your local online bookstore, because online booksellers don't seem to have it either. Even going directly to the publisher's Web site does not entirely solve the problem. Though a company store is mentioned on the site's navbar, clicking on it at press time produced a local version of "under construction." Cruising around the site yielded results not much better. It is possible to "reserve" a copy of the book, but only after you've waded past the part of the site flogging review copies.
All of this is a little bizarre. And it's especially surprising once you've read the book. The Luck of Madonna 13 is quite wonderful. E.T. Ellison has brought us a fully realized future world with humor and more than a little understanding of human nature. His characters are superbly executed. His plot winds up and unwinds in completely believable ways. And, most important in a work that is intended to be the first installment in an ongoing saga, The Luck of Madonna 13 manages to satisfy and leave you wanting more. There are many authors whose work is a lot more easy to find when you're shopping who can't make the same claim.
The Luck of Madonna 13 is Book One in The Last Nevergate series. It revolves around the quest of 16-year-old Glendyl Fenderwell, chosen from all the sixteeners in the Isotown of St. Coriander as the Luckiest, and thus required to become the 250th Quester, sent from St. Coriander to Mt. Faunibeune to look for the Key to "the fabled Nevergate." On the eve of her Quest, Glendyl is understandably nervous: after all, not one of the previous 249 Questers have ever been heard from again. Glendyl, however, understands what she's up against:
The day of Glendyl's Quest broke open like an egg; first a crack, then a split. The crack was a bolt of lightning that seemed to have borrowed the sky for the entire morning, it hung so long in her vision. The splat was just the first of a thousand raindrops that size of golf balls plopping against Glendyl's bedroom window. Great weather to start a deathwalk, she thought resolutely.
We are in 2434 and, though some earthly elements are recognizable, most are not. Most notable among these are Ellison's Wyvern: an engineered race of intelligent, winged and entirely charming -- if you can turn a blind eye to the danger they represent, at any rate -- creatures. All of the Wyvern were either killed or left Earth during the Nevergate wars. Or so we think until we meet one. The Luck of Madonna 13 is full of Ellison-created wonders -- flying castles, dragons and an evil bad guy that plays ZZ Top and has a penchant for 1932 Fords. Ellison's cheerfully skewed wackiness puts the reader in mind of early Terry Pratchett. And, like Pratchett, there is some science here but mostly fantasy of an original enough nature that it begs for its own genre.
A word of advice: if you manage to get your hands on a copy of The Luck of Madonna 13 skip the preface -- called "Genesis" -- and go straight for the meat of Chapter One. As you will have surmised, "Genesis" is all backstory and, in truth, it was ill-advised to put it at the front of the book, warding -- as it were -- potential readers off an otherwise delightful story. Though the backstory is as cunningly written as the rest of the book, it's also a lot of background information on stuff you won't care about until you have actually read the book. If you love the book, you can go back and read it when you're done. If you don't, just save the half hour. By the time I'd read "Genesis" -- after I read the book, as you will have guessed -- I was so enchanted by the characters and the situation that created St. Coriander and the rest of Ellison's world that I wanted to read everything I could about it. However, when I started reading it before I'd read the balance of the book -- the actual story -- I nearly put the whole thing aside.
Another feature of The Luck of Madonna 13 is its -- ahem -- interactivity. Throughout the printed book you find symbols -- Ellison calls them "quincunx" (pronounced, he tells us, "kwinkess") that tell us that additional information on the topic at hand can be found at "the Chronicler's Site" which "contains a growing collection of miscellaneous content of possible relevance to the time and place of The Last Nevergate... and of possible interest to you, the reader."
While it's a fun use of technology and a good idea -- enhancing what is in print with the aid of the Web -- it's a feature that may, in these initial stages, detract from the book rather than add to it. That is to say that, in some ways, it sends the message that the book is incomplete without the Web pages. This is not true. The Luck of Madonna 13 stands quite beautifully on its own. And, if you manage to get some of the luck of Madonna 13 for yourself and find a copy, you'll be able to see this for yourself. | June 2002
Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.