Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica
Published: Tor, 2009
“Indigo Springs is a sleepy town where things seem pretty normal . . . until Astrid’s father dies and she moves into his house. She discovers that for many years her father had been accessing the magic that flowed, literally, in a blue stream beneath the earth, leaking into his house. When she starts to use the liquid "vitagua" to enchant everyday items, the results seem innocent enough: a “’chanted” watch becomes a charm that means you're always in the right place at the right time; a “’chanted” pendant enables the wearer to convince anyone of anything . . .
But as events in Indigo Springs unfold and the true potential of vitagua is revealed, Astrid and her friends unwittingly embark on a journey fraught with power, change, and a future too devastating to contemplate. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends as Astrid discovers secrets from her shrouded childhood that will lead her to a destiny stranger than she could have imagined . . . “ ~barnesandnoble.com
I read Indigo Springs both because it is the August novel for the 2011 Women in Fantasy Book Club and ‘Calico’s Dare’ from the review blog Calico Reaction. This is A.M. Dellamonica’s first novel, and it definitely made me look forward to getting a chance to read more of her work. It appears that she is working on a sequel to Indigo Springs, titled Blue Magic, planned for release in 2012.
Indigo Springs impressed me with its creative magic system, interestingly flawed characters, and its non-linear approach to storytelling, relating the story in two major interwoven narrative threads. The story opens with the first-person present-tense point of view of criminal interrogator Will Forest, as he tries to extract information from the mentally unstable prison inmate Astrid. At this point, some catastrophe has clearly occurred, but the details are unclear. Will’s story serves initially as a frame for the second narrative thread, a past-tense account of events starting from the day Astrid and her friends first moved into her late father’s house. I enjoyed the use of both ‘past’ and ‘present’ stories, though I did feel that the events in the gap between the two timelines ended up a little too rushed over for my taste. Otherwise, the two storylines balance each other well, both building in energy as they approach the climax of the book.
A third, minor narrative thread, consisting of flashback memories of Astrid’s childhood, serves to introduce the reader and characters to the detailed vitagua lore. Though I appreciated the flashbacks as an effective way of dispensing vitagua lore in manageable chunks, I felt that their existence, and the story they told, seemed a little bit contrived. When the origin of the flashback sequences were eventually revealed, I felt like the explanation was a little abrupt and slightly off my sense of Astrid’s character.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed the content revealed by these memories. The powerful, dangerous, ‘vitagua’ was a very interesting take on magic, and the lore behind it was delightfully complex. The ‘chantments’ were flashier than most magic I’ve seen in novels lately, but they were balanced by their consequences and limitations. I particularly liked the idea of alchemical contamination. Among other things, the contamination would exaggerate parts of the victim’s personality, turning what might be a slightly dysfunctional personality quirk into a major problem. I felt like this kind of lore put more focus on the characters, and how they reacted to the magic, than on the magic tricks themselves.
Speaking of characters in Indigo Springs, I loved how strongly their personalities shone through in the story. The novel tended to lean on dialogue over description, so I think that it would not have been nearly as successful if the characters hadn’t had such strong voices. The three main characters are Astrid, her stepbrother Jacks, and her recently-dumped friend Sahara. Astrid is a compulsive peacemaker who fears being abandoned, Jacks is rebelling against his father’s plan for his life, and Sahara is accustomed to getting whatever she wants. The three of them feel like complete people, with their own goals, dreams, and very realistic personality flaws and blind spots. Much of the story revolved around the flawed relationships between these three friends and the other colorful inhabitants of their small town.
My Rating: 4/5
Indigo Springs is an entertaining debut novel, with a richly imagined magical world and strong, imperfect characters. It was fast-paced and exciting, and the interweaving of the storylines from before and after the Alchemical disaster kept the tension rising throughout. The magic blue water ‘vitagua’ was a creative new take on magic, and I’m looking forward to seeing how vitagua will affect the world in Dellamonica’s sequel, Blue Magic. Though I enjoyed the detailed vitagua lore, I thought that the series of flashbacks dispensing it seemed a little contrived. Also, while the conclusion was exciting, it felt as though the central Alchemical disaster of the book was a little rushed. Overall, it was a thoroughly fun book, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s in the mood for some fresh, imaginative contemporary fantasy.