Alan Averill’s THE BEAUTIFUL LAND was a real surprise for me. I picked it up on a bit of a whim; the premise was interesting and I knew it won the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, so I was curious. Technically it is speculative fiction, but the physics concept is so far beyond the bleeding edge that it is more fantasy than science fiction. The underlying physics premise is that of parallel universes, and Averill’s story treats them as pliable to the point of being something that can be written and rewritten like scribbles on a dry erase board. Normally this loose treatment would bug me (I think the whole parallel universes thing is silly anyway), but not here. Averill uses the premise as little more than a crucible in which to grind and evolve his characters, and at this he does a masterful job.
Tak and Samira are both outsiders and old friends, and they are individually interesting from the outset. They are both on the edge of life and about to fall off as the story begins. They are drawn into a situation where all of reality is threatened and they are in a unique position to try and save it. This is where things get interesting. If these two had just picked up the task of saviors from the start, the story would ring false. Their individual realities are awful and it would be unrealistic for them to just jump in and try to save a universe(s) of people who never cared about them. But it is their unrequited love for each other that motivates them and draws them in. As the story develops, so do Tak and Samira. By story end they have evolved to the point where they pass up a selfish chance to save only each other to finally care about the larger world.
The story is particularly sustained by Averill’s writing. His prose are engaging and a pleasure to read. His plotting is fast and linear, pulling the reader along from one disaster to the next. His scenes are just the right size to engage the reader while still serving the rapid plot pace. All together the effect is such that it is hard to put the book down once you start reading. There is no particularly radical theme and this novel will not change the world for you, but you will definitely be happy that you read it. I personally look forward to what Averill does next.