Mortal Coils – Eric Nyland

Nylund crested the New York Times bestseller list with a book set in the Halo world. I try to stay away from stories set in video game worlds. Smells too much like fan fiction to me. I can’t judge Nyland’s Halo adventure since I haven’t read it so I’ll hide my bias and stick to Mortal Coils.

Mortal Coils is one of a line of new fantasy books that I have read lately that is set in a fairly standard urban modern fantasy. Two twins, Fiona and Eliot, grow up under the tyranny of their grandmother and the awful cooking but slightly kinder gaze of their great grandmother. Grandma is a cruel taskmaster and their days are filled with classical learning and nonfiction. TV and socializing are completely out of the question. Their only form of enjoyment is a game in which the twins flex their encyclopedic knowledge by hurling insults at each other that derive from obscure texts or MENSA hand guides of pretension. Surprisingly, Nylund does this well. You can tell he’s aching to stretch his own intellect but he manages to do so without losing sight of the story or boring the reader to tears.

This dull existence carries right on up to their magical sixteenth birthdays at which point they discover they are actually the spawn of a goddess and Lucifer. This isn’t a spoiler as you can read this on the back of the book cover. This is where I let out a bit of a groan. Too formulaic. Everything is dull and painful in your existence then you turn a certain age and BOOM – ‘You’re a wizard Harry.’ Or ‘You’re father’s Poseidon.’  I feel sorry for the poor kid who finds out his father is Tiger Woods when he turns sixteen. We all know what his powers will be – dropping putts and sponsorships while showing off the huge head on his driver.

They do indeed have magical powers and from that point forward a lot of the book is spent on them discovering what they are. Eliot’s gift has to do with music while Fiona’s is a little more violent in nature. I found myself wishing the author spent a little more time developing the details of Eliot’s power as anything magically musical is pretty damn cool. Except the bard class in damn near any fantasy role playing game. The music dynamic just doesn’t translate from fiction to a quantifiable set of rules. Instead you get some weak ass stilted approximation that is just painful to be a part of. But I digress.

The twins are set three Herculean tasks that they must complete. These will test their mettle and more importantly their allegiance. Are they going to be good?  Are they going to be evil?  These questions don’t truly get answered and Nylund sets you up with a final teaser that will segue into the next book of the trilogy or series. It wasn’t one of the top fantasy books I have read but for the most part it worked. The formulaic nature felt a bit like I was watching television. I’m still undecided on whether I will pick up the next one.