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The Passing Of The Techno-Mages III: Invoking Darkness
Del Rey paperback $6.50
review by Cristopher Hennessey-DeRose
In this last instalment of the latest Babylon 5 trilogy, author Jeanne Cavelos has taken on the task of illuminating minor characters from the TV series (and its ill-fated spin-off, Crusade), exploring the background works of the Techno-Mages, and revealing behind-the-scenes details many viewers wished they could have been privy to when the series first aired. Invoking Darkness delivers all this, and it's not an easy task considering the challenge of playing in someone else's universe while retaining a unique voice as a writer.
The chaotic Shadows sweep through the galaxy in a war the first two books led up to. Entire planets are destroyed and lives are, of course, changed forever as the Shadows and the mysterious, god-like Vorlons fight amongst themselves, and against other races that populate the galaxy. The powerful Techno-Mages, only a few of which are aware of the true nature and origin of the implants that allow them to work their magic, have since gone into hiding because their power is derived from the Shadows. Rather than be used as weapons, many of the Techno-Mages decided not to participate in the war at all, while a handful of others have aligned themselves with the Shadows.
Enter Galen, whom we first met in Crusade. Cavelos reveals the conflicted and absolute darkness Galen has that was never revealed on TV. He is a walking weapon who has discovered the devastating spell of destruction. An unsettled spirit, he makes rash decisions that erupt in violence, which he becomes more comfortable with as time goes on. He is dispatched from the Techno-Mages' hiding place to seek out and destroy not only a small band of rogue Techno-Mages who may have discovered the key to the spell of destruction, but also their liaison with the dreaded Shadows, Morden (whom B5 fans will know as the man who can make anyone's great aspirations possible courtesy of the Shadows' technology and power). It is a task Galen takes on with great anticipation even though it will take him to the Shadows' home world, Z'ha'dum.
We visit scenes familiar to B5 fans, discovering how things 'really' happened. It's dangerous territory to pursue the 'everything you know is wrong' line of storytelling, especially with the staunch audience B5 had, but Cavelos pulls it off, by not drawing undo attention to the details that explain the new revelations. Among some of the ambitious scenes illuminated here that were only hinted at on the show is Anna Sheridan's 'rehabilitation' from pawn of the Shadows to a key weapon to be used against her husband, Captain John Sheridan, who up until her reintroduction into his life thought her dead. We see firsthand what Anna had been doing before the Shadows realised her true value, and exactly how much of her was lost when she resisted the Shadows, only to become a slave. We come to see her POV, and in a way, the Shadows a bit more clearly because of this. The violent confrontation between Sheridan and the Shadows that seek to enslave him as they have his wife is also detailed, and shows how much Galen's assistance made a difference in John Sheridan's fate, told both from Galen's and John's viewpoint, a unique experience as their stories are crosscut in the book's narrative. This sort of thing can be confusing if done improperly, but Cavelos makes it compelling and easy to follow without losing any of the tension she has built up within the trilogy. Morden's disfigurement is also detailed, and all these things come together to beg the question, why were they not explained at any time in the series?
Another interesting perspective is that of the sympathetic Vorlon, Kosh, who, after being assassinated by the Shadows, is able to send a part of himself into John Sheridan and so help direct him in the right direction, even if that means plummeting to his eventual death and subsequent rebirth in the depths of Z'ha'dum. A short but wonderful passage of Galen meeting with the First One Lorien (who will go on to help John come back from the dead) culminates in Lorien taking Morden away at Galen's request as the Techno-Mage tries to insist some good must survive within the Shadow's agent.
The technical aspects, which were more detailed in the first book Casting Shadows are treated to some fine tuning here, something Cavelos, who has taught as both an astrophysicist and mathematician, could have turned into a dry recitation of technology as applied to the human (and in some cases, alien) body, but she demonstrates her ability to suspend disbelief as a writer while keeping her enthusiasm as a fan of the B5 series itself. The mysterious figure of Morden is given a bit more light, but not enough to satisfy. There's too much of a grey area here when something more certain would have been nice. The saving grace is that if the B5 universe has taught us anything, it's that sometimes there are more questions than there are answers and that we need a little more mystery.
The level of graphic violence, which has been more prevalent in the past trilogies involving Centauri Prime and the dreaded Psi Corps, is present here. Among the more disturbing highlights are a Techno-Mage flaying himself to death and Galen's electrocution of the young Soom girl Fa via the tech in a ring Galen's mother gave him, which he has since passed to the girl as a means to communicate with him in an emergency, while being questioned by the Mages who along with a telepath have defected to the Shadows, has information pulled from her very mind. While Galen's gesture is an attempt to prevent a more grisly death to the child at the hands of those who once were his contemporaries, it is still a difficult part of Galen's perpetually darkening life to experience.
As noted before, melding a universe that we were only given a glance into (Crusade) mixed with characters that we aren't terribly familiar, within the confines of a universe B5 fans are rabid about is not an easy task, especially with each instalment growing darker in tone and action that makes the protagonist difficult to sympathise with, but it's handled with such a passion for the setting and characters it's obvious that Cavelos is not only more than at home with such things, but that she excels at making the reader keep turning pages while enjoying the pursuit of the story - generally a rare thing with tie-in novels. Perhaps even more rare in media tie-ins is the amount of familiarity one must have with a given series before cracking the spine. Cavelos has made enough of the universe her own to where one has no great need to watch every episode, or read every book and visit every website available in order to grasp some of the poignant moments. Occasionally, subplots are mentioned and characters affected by them are mentioned and resolved in an offhand way, but it's no great liability to the total body of work.
While the ending isn't a fairytale (and thank goodness for that), it is just as satisfying as one could ask for; it exhibits the maturity Galen so desperately needed, that life goes on, and that hope, as the series itself taught us, endures.
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