The Luck of Madonna 13

Usually, as I'm reading a novel, I get an idea of how I'm going to start off the review. Usually a theme coalesces and is fully formed by the time I reach "The End." But with The Luck of Madonna 13, by E. T. Ellison, I honestly have no idea where to begin, other than to say that this is easily the weirdest book I have ever read. Which must be a good thing, as I whole-heartedly believe that was one of the author's intentions.

St. Coriander is an isolated, self-contained, and self-sufficient community in what used to be the southwestern United States. The town is based on a unique religion based around luck and probabilities. Glendyl Fenderwell, the town's luckiest sixteener, is awarded the great honor of going on a quest for the Last Nevergate, a quest no one has returned from alive. (Luckiest my white hairy ass.)

If that last paragraph made absolutely no sense, don't worry, you'll have that feeling for most of the time you're reading the novel. The book seems to be a gigantic exercise in science fiction world building more than anything else. And this is a big, complicated, multidimensional world created by an obvious madman who needs to be locked away before someone gets hurt. You have: clones, genetic engineering, parallel universes, world governments rising and falling, magic wands powered by orbital satellites, artificial intelligences, secret hundred year old schemes, talking book bags, twin on twin action, purple-and-yellow squirrels, and enough dates and names to make you hold your head and cry "make it stop!"

The Good: I've read quite a few self-published and small press books reviewing for the Dragon Page. This is one of the few books from a small press that I thought was written well enough to be published by a big press. Man, can E. T. Ellison write. It was almost distracting, as time and time again, I would read along, and stop, and re-read a line, and stop, and think, "wow, what a fantastic sentence," and move on. His knack with coming up with unusual yet spot-on metaphors is remarkable.

And while building strange, exciting new worlds to play with is nothing new in science fiction, the depth of back story and intricacy in Ellison's world staggers the mind. If you're a fan of series like Discworld, if you can talk for hours over Star Trek universe continuity, you'll pee your pants in excitement reading this book.

The Bad: If you don't care all that much about world building and invented histories and the like, you probably won't like this book. One of the bigger "controversies" concerning the book is that the first chapter, called Genesis, is a thirty-seven page appendix on the history of St. Coriander and the surrounding area. And it's at the beginning of the book. There are also detailed footnotes throughout the book, even in the appendix. If that weren't enough, in certain spots it refers the reader to find even more information on the Last Nevergate website. Many, many words have been dedicated to sculpting this world.

In fact, so much of the text is devoted to world building that I think the story suffers from it. After four hundred pages, I finished the book feeling I've only read the first act of a play. I generally dislike books that are obviously written as first volumes in a series, rather than as entire stories in and of themselves. I hate unresolved sub-plots, cliffhanger endings, and the like. The Luck of Madonna 13 begs for at least one more volume to finish the story.

The Ugly: As much as I liked Ellison's writing, I was disappointed in his dialogue. It read quite stilted in spots, and sometimes came across as silly. This didn't happen often, and I don't think most people would mind the style, but I'm picky about dialogue, and it bugged me a bit.

When it was all said and done, the book didn't disappoint, but didn't thrill me either. However, I have a feeling I'm in the minority. I see a bright future for The Chronicler.

The Luck of Madonna 13 was awarded ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year award for 2002, and made January Magazine's list of the 92 best books of 2002.

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Luck of Madonna 13 by E. T. Ellison
Published by: Wynderry Press; July 2002
ISBN: 1931347131
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage: www.etellison.com

Author's Webpage: www.lastnevergate.com

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.

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