The Warrior Within is Angus McIntyre’s first novella for Tor.com Publishing. It’s a pretty interesting piece of work that reminds me faintly of Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame trilogy and a little more strongly of Ankaret Wells’ independently-published Requite duology.
(Review contains spoilers.)
On a backwater planet whose inhabitants live parochial lives surrounded by the artefacts and wreckage of a long-vanished civilisation, a somewhat-disinterested religious autocracy dispenses subsistence wages and food for devotion and prayer—or salvaged artefacts—at their technological Temples. The head of each Temple is called the Muljaddy, and they’re all part of one single family, and the Temples—which are sometimes moved—are strung out along the length of a Road through a wasteland landscape, around which towns grow and falter, and along which people occasionally move.
Karsman used to be the servant of a prominent Muljaddy, and—unlike most of his neighbours—has travelled out into the wider universe. One consequence of his experience is that he now has several personalities in his head, personalities—like the Warrior, the Diplomat, the Strategist, the Artificer—that he frequently worries will rise and subsume his own, leaving him with no knowledge of what they’ve done with his body, and with no sense of how much time has passed. Now he lives a quiet, unobtrusive life in a small town as far from notice as he can, and only briefly contemplates leaving it to follow his lover of recent days, Mera, further down the road.
But when three men—three offworld commandos—walk out of the wastelands and into the town that looks to Karsman as a sort of unofficial mayor, his quiet life is unpleasantly disrupted. The offworlders say they’re there looking for a woman, and when they find her, they’ll kill her and be on their way. But tensions mount as the commandos prove unable to find what they’re looking for—and as they overthrow the local Muljaddy and begin making strange alterations to the temple. Karsman finds himself driven to act, both by the Muljaddy, by his own inexplicable urges, and by the convinced and irrational terror that his own lover, Mera (returned in the night), is the woman these commandos are looking for.
It transpires that Karsman’s mosaic of personalities hides a secret, one that no one has guessed: the woman the soldiers are searching for? She’s inside him.
McIntyre has a strong voice and a deft hand with description. His characters come across as slight, with the exception of Karsman himself: there isn’t much space given to develop Mera or Karsman’s friend Steck into palpable presences who feel as though they have lives outside the narrative. While the tension ramps tidily upwards from the introduction of the three offworld commandos and their revelation of their mission, the climax comes off as a little rushed. A failed escape turns into a series of mounting revelations about what the commandos really want, why they want it, and what Karsman has to do with it, all of this thick and fast over the final twelve pages: it doesn’t feel earned, and that gives the novella a less powerful impact than it might, perhaps, have had.
The real strength of The Warrior Within, though, is its setting. McIntyre describes a world both peculiar and lived-in, hinting at a universe of weirdness and advanced technology outside the knowledge (or, really, the desire to care) of most of Karsman’s neighbours. When McIntyre describes ruined tech, the remnants of advanced civilisation and the believably parochial people who live within and beside these remains, The Warrior Within becomes… pretty gorgeously elegiac.
The story didn’t quite work for me, but the world? That’s fascinating, and on the strength of it, I’m rather looking forward to seeing more of McIntyre’s work.
The Warrior Within is available from Tor.com Publishing.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.