Book Review by Richard R. Horton
Galveston is set in the same world as two of Sean Stewart’s earlier novels, Resurrection Man and The Night Watch, though all three books are set at different times, and feature different characters. It’s an alternate history of sorts: sometime around World War II, fantasy started to leak into our world, at first slowly. Then, in 2004, some years before the action of Galveston, came the Flood, where the world was apparently inundated with magic. In the island city of Galveston, the magical part of the city has been strictly segregated from the less-affected part.
Galveston is mainly about two people, Sloane Gardner, whose mother is town’s leader; and Josh Cane, who was sweet on Sloane when he was a boy, before the Canes’ luck turned. Josh learned from his mother the bitter art of trying to make medicines in a mostly post-technological world, taking over the business when she died of diabetes after her insulin stock ran out. Josh is bitter at his exile from the high society of Galveston, his mother’s death and father’s abandonment, and at the way most of his new neighborhood is slow to accept him. He has just one friend, the huge and amiable Ham Mather.
Sloane, avoiding the responsibility her dying mother wishes her to assume, starts going to the magical side of town, accidentally causing Josh and Ham to be framed for a crime that didn’t even occur, and exiled to the barbaric Texas coast. Just at this time, the disaster which has been foreshadowed happens: a hurricane, and some deaths, which finally loose the tide of magic onto the long protected city of Galveston. Sloane is forced to learn more about herself and to try to find a way to lead the newly changed city, while Josh is forced to even more bitter self-confrontation.
This is an absorbing and wonderful read. The magical elements are very well described as is the decaying “real world” landscape of post-Flood Galveston. The characters are bitterly and honestly portrayed, and despite manifold weaknesses, are very sympathetic. My only disappointment was that the book doesn’t really end so much as stop. I think this is a result of Stewart’s refusal to “lie”: he doesn’t want any easy solutions, either easy happy endings, or easy tragedies. A such, I felt the ending of the book read a bit flat, though the theme is driven home excellently, and the characters are treated honestly and their changes are real. In sum, a very good book.