By Steven R. Boyett
I generally tend to shy away from most fantasy novels as they seem frivolous and lightweight. It’s like having a vegetarian meal of tofu and other assorted veggies, when what you are really craving is meat and potatoes. Steven R.Boyett’s ARIEL is clearly a meat and potatoes variety of a fantasy adventure. There is nothing fanciful in his apocalyptic setting wherein the world we know, the world of science and technology, one day simply ceases to function. Just like that, all the laws of science are no longer valid and replacing them is the magic of ancient mythology.
Then one day the protagonist, a young man named Peter Garey, encounters a unicorn in his travels through this lonely, silent landscape. The snow-white unicorn’s name is Ariel and she an immature creature seeking direction and guidance. She is intelligent and can talk, able to learn from Pete. Thus the two quickly come to learn they need each other if they are to survive in this wasteland aftermath of what Pete calls the Change. Underlying the entire narrative is the sexual tension created by the fact that Pete can touch Ariel and share a bond with her because he is still a virgin. Ariel is purity personified and only virgins can make contact with her; others are painfully burned.
And that’s the entire set up. What makes it unique and original is putting such a fantasy pairing into a gray, foreboding world. Along their journey, they meet a sword wielding philosopher named Malachi Lee who warns them that a necromancer has set up shop in the ruins of New York and should he learn of Ariel, will make every effort to capture her for the magical properties of her horn. No sooner is this warning given then they are set upon by agents of that evil magician and blood flows.
Boyett, himself a student of martial arts, describes violent encounters with a clinical precision that is based on his actual fight training. There are some glorious sword duels throughout and when Ariel is eventually captured by the villain, Pete and Malachi lead a rag-tag army of Washington based survivors in an attack on the necromancer’s stronghold, the Empire State Building. This is not your kid sister’s fantasy, but a fast paced, thrill ride that culminates in a page-turning battle amidst the cramped halls and offices of this iconic landmark.
ARIEL was Boyett’s first novel and was released way back in 1983. It launched his career and became a cult favorite amongst sci-fi and fantasy readers. The book wraps up on an open-ended line that indicated there would be more adventures to come. Now, after twenty-six, a sequel has been delivered in hardback called ELEGY BEACH occasioning the re-lease of this new paperback edition of ARIEL. I’m eager to get to it, as ARIEL is truly a remarkable, entertaining adventure book that doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve passed it over all these years, undecided whether to give it a go, hesitate no longer. ARIEL is simply a terrific book.