LitStack Review: Weather Child by Philippa Ballantine

by Sharon Browning
Weather Child: The Awakened Epoch, Book Oneweather child
Philippa Ballantine
Imagine That! Studios
Release Date: March 1, 2014
ISBN: 978-0615953489

From the opening lines of Philippa Ballantine’s new work, Weather Child, I was entranced.  The setting and action was about as far away from my own recognizable experience as one can get:  looking in at a couple of Kiwi soldiers in World War I, deep in the muddy trenches at Gallipoli in 1915.  Yet it was so fully realized that I felt the mud and could sense the smell and the noise, even as I was being asked to expand my brain a bit further – and by that, I mean embracing the premise which makes this book unique and sets it beyond the realm of simple history.

The action of the story takes place between 1915 and 1931 and unfolds (except for the brief introduction) in New Zealand.  The war is a constant backdrop against which the action is held; even with the fighting officially over, once a person is a part of such a conflict, it changes them forever.  In the case of Jack Cunningham, the changes go far deeper than warfare.

For in Jack’s iteration of our world, there are angels.

OK, so that was somewhat dramatic.  These creatures in Weather Child are not really angels, but some kind of symbiotic species that have been given the name of “seraphim” but a public who cannot fully understand them.  These mysterious creatures “awaken” those they choose to inhabit by heightening their hosts’ senses, and by giving them new and wondrous abilities.

A seraph was an answer and a curse at the same time. They had no physical presence, but they were a voice in the head that gave their hosts powers that made them literally magicians. No one knew exactly where they came from, but when they were first encountered, many thought them a kind of angel; others thought them demon. The curse was once you were Awakened, you were immediately and forever different. Even old age affected them more slowly. Not that he expected to make it to old age.

These seraphim merge with their hosts at a time when the humans are undergoing intense trauma or in instances of great physical pain, becoming fully integrated yet distinctly separate entities that both protect the host from that trauma or pain, and give them access to enhanced or even otherworldly powers.  Once shared with and unleashed by the human host, these powers, which run the gamut from healing to destruction, often incur a cost, inducing some sort of damage to whomever wields it.  Sometimes the repercussion comes as a physical cost such as pain or debilitating weakness, at other times it is manifest in a human host as a madness that comes from both having such a great power at the their disposal, and from the constant, gnawing temptation to use that power, regardless of its affect on themselves or others.

To “protect” mankind from instances of this madness, an entire division of the military, the Ministry of the Awakening, fronted by the Officers of the Awakening (colloquially known as “the Eyes”), has been developed to document and keep the Awakened under surveillance, and to incarcerate or institutionalize those who became dangerous or a threat to society.  Asylums, such as the dreaded Shorecliff, were not merely places of control, they also were institutions of investigation and “treatment”, and their very names struck fear into those Awakened who had dared to stray, either deliberately or unknowingly, outside the strict regulations watched over by the Eyes.

And, since the motives of the seraphim as a (for wont of a better word) species are unknown, certain elements – unauthorized but nevertheless existent – go beyond treatment into experimentation, to discern the limits of the seraphim’s powers, and to seek out how those powers could be exploited.  The ministry may not have sanctioned this, but they don’t seem to be able to prevent it.

Not even angels can protect against the evils of men.

That is just part of the story that author Philippa Ballantine has woven from the pages of Earth’s history and the depths of her imagination.

Along with Jack, who is a “magician”, whose powers awakened by Waingaio, his seraph, include physical manifestations of his deepened emotions (but whose byproduct is an incredible sensitivity towards being touched), we meet Faith Louden, a young woman whose seraph, Hoa, has awakened in her an ability to call on the wind and draw forth storms: she is a very rare “weather witch”.  Yet the very violence of the storms she creates can sweep Faith from awareness, leaving her in a deep, magically induced coma; her powers are not ones to be used lightly.

But Faith is not the only Awakened in the Louden clan; her young cousin, Lily, is manifested with a seraph on the tragic death of her mother in the plague that is sweeping New Zealand.  Yet before Lily can learn the name of her seraph, and therefore bond with him, she is claimed by an evil so malevolent, so powerful, that the worst of the experiments at Shorecliff pale in comparison.  Known only in whispers as the Craven Man, he haunts the nightmares of those he touches – and he has touched Lily when she is most vulnerable.

Although Faith and Jack travel along different paths, they end up being drawn closer together by disparate but tightening threads of this story:  the people they love, the forces they fear, and the desperate need to fight back against the injustices that threaten their families, their country, and even their own lives.  Full of the action, adventure, pathos and love, this fanciful story of a world both familiar and fantastic will leave you breathless – and wanting more.

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