Born to Run, by Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon

born-to-run-by-mercedes-lackey-larry-dixon coverGenre: Modern/Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Baen
Published: 1992
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by David Hart

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Mercedes Lackey is best known for her Valdemar books, most of which range from good to very good. However she occasionally seems to write the first few pages of a book and then click her word-processor’s AutoComplete button — as for example “Brightly Burning”. Born to Run is the first of a series (The Serrated Edge) that I hadn’t tried before, so normally I’d have been wondering which was in store. So I read the first chapter, thought it decidedly promising, and bought the book. Unfortunately that first chapter is the best one.

The date is 1992, the place Savannah, Georgia, and the book starts with Tannim, a young human mage, risking his life to point out to a ghost that it’s dead. That’s more or less it for that plot-facet. The rest of the book involves good Sidhe, who spend their time building racing cars, and evil Sidhe who prefer to create pornography, especially child porn and snuff movies — some of them thrive on the negative energies emitted by the participants. The story also follows at some length three teenage runaways who survive by prostitution, and end up in the clutches of the evil Sidhe. Fortunately the good Sidhe have a sideline in rescuing abused children.

So what’s good about the book? Well, there is a reasonable amount of magical activity: mostly inter-Sidhe, but there is also the interesting idea of combining magic and technology to make better car engines. Characters of both sexes are believable, presumably because the writers are one of each. The climax is adequately climactic, and the writing style is good.

And now the bad news. First I have a small problem with this version of Sidhe. The good ones lack the capriciousness and haughtiness that usually goes with the name; instead they behave like elves with an iron-allergy (they even ride elvensteeds). The bad guys are better, except for the Ban-Sidhe, which is renamed a Bane-Sidhe and not only behaves like a cross between a vampire and a ghoul, but is male! (Ban-Sidhe just means female Sidhe; well would you prefer to call them she-Sidhe?).

My main problem though is with the subject matter. I realize that in a “real world” fantasy, the mundane must feature prominently. (I wouldn’t have selected a motor-racing motif for this, but then my name isn’t Mercedes.) But what spoiled the book for me was the child-abuse theme that took up far too much of the story. In fact I got the distinct impression that the writers set out to do a novel about runaway children, and then looked for a way to put a fantasy wrapper around it. This impression is reinforced by the subject matter of the sequel, Wheels of Fire, which combines child abuse with child abduction by a lunatic religious sect. No doubt terribly worthy, but not my preferred reading matter. I find this more of a pity because of that good first chapter, which planted the sapling of a much more interesting plot only for it to die of neglect.

So how to score it? If you enjoy mainstream novels with some fantasy thrown in, you might give it 4 stars, especially if you have a liking for early ’90s pop-music and an interest in cars. If, like me, you prefer SF in your SF, you would grudgingly award 2 stars. I’ll split the difference for a 3 star rating.

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