Eric James Spannerman’s Applied Natural Magic is a book in the Darkside Codex, a shared world series that revolves around the city of Southwatch. Stories in this world are based in the steampunk genre, but can have additional elements of science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, romance, paranormal, and/or noir.
Spannerman’s novel centers on the city of Southwatch and life below the Dark Cloud. It deals with the ideas of social climbing and social unrest. Along with the steampunk setting, it has elements of fantasy and a good whodunnit.
In Applied Natural Magic, Spannerman focuses on some of the problems inherent in living below the Dark Cloud. Because of the level of pollution in Southwatch, the sun no longer shines in the poorer districts of the city. The plants and trees needed to sustain the population no longer grow. Riots because of food shortages almost have become the norm. The Sky Rangers, the police force for the Baron of Southwatch, have armor, shields, stun batons, gyrocopters, and ironclad vehicles on their side. The rioters have little except numbers:
“The Rangers stood in absolute silence. The crowd milled about slightly, not advancing into the ten feet of no man’s land in front of the Rangers, but not retreating , either. Gradually, patterns began to appear in the crowd. Those carrying makeshift metal shields found their way to the front, forming a ragged line to match the Ranger’s wall of bessem. The groups stood like two armies: one with matching armor and bright red stun batons, the other with little more than greatcoats and an assortment of improvised weapons.”
Spannerman’s description of the violence that follows is chillingly realistic. It brought to mind descriptions I have read about the 1963 Civil Rights riots in Birmingham.
Caught up in the outskirts of the riots is Charles Woodridge, a junior professor at the Royal Academy who is trying to rise in society. Coming from work, he runs into a young boy named Tommy and tries to protect him from the violence by hiding in a store. Tommy asks Charles a simple question: Why are the rioters angry? Charles explains that they are angry because they do not have enough to eat. There isn’t enough food to feed everyone in the city.
Through his work at the University, Charles has created a special breed of potatoes that can grow quickly indoors. A success in this area would solve a lot of the food shortage problems for the people of Southwatch and all but guarantee that he could earn a fortune, marry well, and move out from under the Dark Cloud. When a theft occurs at his laboratory, all of this is put in jeopardy. Charles’s world is thrown into a whirlwind. Everyone in his life—everyone he trusts—could be involved in the theft. With very little help from the authorities, time is running out to solve the crime and put things right.
I enjoyed the story a great deal. The mystery aspect appealed to me and I liked the fact that Spannerman treated his audience fairly. As a reader I felt I had enough clues to solve the mystery and the ending was logical and left room for a sequel.
Disclaimer: I am also an author for the Darkside Codex series. My own novel, The Caelimane Operation, will be released in January, 2015.