by Steve Cash
Published by Tor Books
448 pages, 2003
Reviewed by Robert Lightbody
Steve Cash's debut fantasy, The Meq, is an astonishing, inventive and addictive book. Unlike many of The Meq's modern fantasy contemporaries that often rely heavily on a formula, Steve Cash charts a bold new direction with The Meq. There is not an elf, wizard or hobbit in sight and the book is gloriously set against the tumultuous backdrop of the late 19th and early 20th century, engulfing the pioneering spirit of gold rush America, modern invention and world war into its vast and global plot.
The Meq are an ancient and mysterious race who have their roots in the Basque region of Europe. This strange, seemingly human race appears to the world at large as though they are 12-year-old children when in fact many of them are centuries old. The hero of the book is Meq child Zianno Zezen or Z for short. At the beginning of the book he is orphaned when his parents are killed in a train crash. From this moment we are on a journey with Z as he strives to discover the hidden secrets of The Meq. Who are they? Where do they come from? What are the secrets of the sacred stone he carries and what does the future hold for him and his ancient race?
Throughout Z's journeys in the book, from the St. Louis World Fair to the brothels of New Orleans, from China's ancient palaces to the wilds of Africa and back again, Z learns the answers to many of his questions, but is also presented with further enigma's regarding his and The Meq's ultimate destiny. This first book sets the standard for what is sure to be a fantastic and compelling series of books from this author.
Steve Cash's incisive storytelling runs the gamut of the emotional spectrum, touching upon love, hate, joy, loneliness and despair. Z's journey is filled with deliciously written characters from his lifelong friendships with both his human companions, for whom he is willing to sacrifice his own happiness, to his relationships with his Meq brothers and sisters -- both friend and foe -- whose mysterious actions often have tragic consequences for his human friends.
Although the book is set amidst the late 19th to early 20th centuries, the events occurring in this fast changing period of human history hardly inflict on the story, which promotes the sense of Z and the Meq being outside the progress of human history looking in.
The Meq is a truly remarkable and entertaining piece of storytelling that had me completely gripped from the very first page. I can't wait for the next installment. | January 2004
Robert Lightbody is an entertainment journalist working in London, who writes for magazines around the world. He likes books that stoke the imagination and leave you with that "something special" long after you have read the last line.