Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Published: Tor Books, 2009
Imagine a world where all manner of magical creatures exist just beyond the notice of society, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest is an account of a true story. Long after the events of Shakespeare’s play, the sorcerer Prospero and his children continue to protect humanity from the whims of the supernatural.
In the present day, Prospero is retired, and his children are scattered. Miranda has been left in charge of their corporation, Prospero, Inc, which now controls magical creatures through negotiated contracts and the labor of indentured Aerie spirits. One day, Prospero vanishes, leaving Miranda a cryptic message to warn her siblings about the “Three Shadowed Ones”. Miranda and her detective Mab, an Aerie spirit bound in human form, are off on an adventure to warn her siblings, find her father, and solve any other mysteries that arise along the way!
I read this novel as a part of the 2011 Women in Fantasy Book Club. It is the first book of a trilogy, and it doesn’t really stand alone as a novel. This book is basically the introduction to the series, so be aware that it is more of a first act than a complete story in itself.
On the positive side, I did enjoy reading about Lamplighter’s world and many of the characters within it. I loved how magic was so reliable (though dangerous) and treated as just an ordinary facet of life. My favorite characters were Mab the detective and Mephisto, Miranda’s insane little brother. Mab, as an enslaved Aerie spirit, is in the contradictory state of cherishing both his free will and the human form his owners forced him to take. Mephisto provides a lot of the comic relief, and his cheerful, easygoing attitude is a great counterpoint to the prim Miranda. In general, all of the Prospero siblings have such forceful personalities that the stories of their history together was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Though I enjoyed the characters and the world, I had some frustration with the structure of the story. I was really not prepared for just how little resolution Prospero Lost would offer. It seemed to me like this entire novel was exposition for the story to come. The many characters were introduced and then fleshed out through recounting stories from their long lives. Their stories also introduced us to many important aspects of the magical world. While there was some action and excitement, there was no suspense building up to a climax. The pacing was very slow and steady, and it sometimes felt more like a sequence of events than a story. Many intriguing mysteries were presented, but almost none of them were solved. While I left the book wanting to know more, I also left it irritated at apparently learning nothing.
As for the voice of the novel, the story is a first person narrative from the point-of-view of Miranda Prospero. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the first person viewpoint is very hit-or-miss for me. If I dislike the protagonist, then it grates on me all the way through the book. I did not like Miranda Prospero. Miranda is self-involved, arrogant, and doesn’t even take much of an interest in her own family. Despite being about 500 years old, she has the emotional maturity of a repressed sixteen-year-old girl. I found her status as a virgin handmaiden to Lady Eurynome interesting, but I disliked how it allowed her to avoid problem solving. She’s blindly obedient to both her father and Eurynome, and Eurynome simply tells her what to do anytime she gets into real trouble.
This would have been easier to handle if Miranda had become more aware of her shortcomings and
exhibited some kind of personal growth. I understand that she’s being displayed full of character flaws, which she will presumably overcome in the next two installments of this trilogy. But when I consider the rest of the cast, I realize that none of them were really changed by the events of the book. There was a lot of external conflict in the story, and there was a lot of set-up for character-growth-inducing internal conflict. However, it was largely left unrealized within the confines of this book.
My Rating: 3/5
Giving this book a rating feels premature, as I’m guessing my sense of it would change if I read the rest of the series. Prospero Lost seemed more like an introduction for the world and the characters than a complete story. While it was still entertaining, I really would have preferred for some of the plot lines to be resolved and for some of the characters to be changed by the events of the story. I do want to know what happens next, but I’m not sure if I’ll seek out the second book (Prospero in Hell).