2022’s Cascade is the first volume in Rachel A. Rosen’s The Sleep of Reason near-future fantasy apocalypse series.
Everyone with even a rudimentary education knew about climate change, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. However, the sudden outburst of actual magic twenty years ago (the Cascade) came as a total surprise. Reactions varied from country to country, region to region. Vasai Singh saved Indian cities by elevating them above the flood waters, while the US collapsed into a patchwork of smaller nations unpleasant in various ways. Canada? Canada continued on with business as normally as possible, under the circumstances.
At least for the moment.
The Party1 would like to think of itself a sort of natural ruling party. The sad fact is that it would not have clawed its way up from obscurity to dominance without the assistance of foul-mouthed MAI (magic-affected individual) AKA Party wizard Ian Mallory. Ian Mallory is plagued with endless visions of every possible future, a talent he has used to lead the Party intothe future. It now forms the government.
Mallory can only work with the materials at hand. Ideally the Party would be led by a grand heroic figure behind whom Canada could rally. The Party is actually led by Prime Minister Patrice Abel, whose talent for needless, pointless scandals is remarkable.
Past prime ministers in Abel’s situation have prevailed because their opposition was even more uninspiring. To an extent, this is true of Abel’s opposition. However, this Opposition is backed by relentless media mogul Reid Curtis. Family-Compact-descended Reid has a wealth of resources, all of which he is willing to use to pry the Party out of power.
Abel faces an election; remaining at 24 Sussex (the prime minister’s residence) depends on Mallory’s ability to foresee the path between the now the Party has and the tomorrowit wants. However, Mallory has not been entirely forthcoming. Not only is there no path to victory for the Party, all roads forward lead to a magical apocalypse that will make the Cascade look like a sneeze. Not only can Mallory not save Abel or the Party, he cannot even save himself or the world. All he can do is look for the least bad future reachable from the present they are in.
Canadians are about to discover that elections do matter, that both sides are not the same, and that the line between good old comfortable, tolerant Canada and a mass-murdering state no better than the US does not exist.
Imagine a Canadian version of the TV show The Thick of It, set in Canada, where Malcolm Tucker isn’t an obscenity-spewing Scottish PR mavin, but an equally foul-mouthed Newfoundlander who just happens to be an actual wizard. Also the whole world is on fire, and the only people not arguing over which colour dixie cup of water should be used to extinguish the fire are the people reaching for jerry-cans full of naphtha.
This is as Canadian as a child’s unmarked grave near a shuttered residential school and not just because it mentions the Family Compact by name. Some of the details of the crises facing Abel may seem a bit peculiar to persons unaccustomed to Westminster-style parliamentary democracies, as well to others whose versions of Westminster-style parliamentary democracies have moved past the point where scandal has any effect on the ruling oligarch’s clutch on the prime minister’s office. Canadians will find this all very comfortingfamiliar. Non-Canadians can use Wikipedia to familiarize themselves with how our government works.
There are in fact a lot more characters in this book than noted above. Some readers may be a little worried at the beginning that they will never be able to keep the whole cast in short-term memory. Be patient! This is not a forgiving narrative and it becomes much, much easier to remember those still living by the time the novel reaches its grim end. In that context, it’s a bit of a pity that the author makes us care about so many characters before their unpleasant demises.
Readers hoping for something along the lines of a Roberson Davies comic novel or an uplifting Lucy Maud Montgomery coming-of-age novel should look elsewhere. In fact, the novel falls somewhat short of The Handmaid’s Tale optimism, since there’s no afterword from any Gileadean Research Association assuring the reader that the former dystopia has become a historical footnote of interest only to academics. Sometimes there are no good choices (or people go out of their way to make bad choices) and all the survivors can do is live with the consequences for as long as they can. Not a lot of comfort here — but at least this book may help some readers reckon with the days to come on more levels than they otherwise might have.
A note on titles: ideally, a title should be searchable on its own. In this case, if you do not care to use the links below, you will have to remember to include the author’s name in the search.
1: Neither the Party nor its Opposition are named. Feel free to imagine:
- the Party as any of the Canadian mediocre centre-left parties whose half-hearted efforts to mitigate calamity would be damned as flagrant communism by Fox News;
- the Opposition as any of the Canadian coalitions of would-be theocrats, resource-extractors, bigots, one percenters, and genocide enthusiasts.