Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Book Review: The World of Wishes

In the World of Wishes, anything you wish is yours. Anything.

From this simple statement flows one of the most fascinating and complex story worlds that I've seen to date in the indie writing space. Populated by equally fascinating and complex characters, the World of Wishes is easily one of the most underrated science fiction books you'll encounter.

In the setting of the World of Wishes, a group of alien robots called the Djinn have set up shop in the Earth's core. Anyone with a Card can make a wish for anything, and the Djinn will grant it. Flying cars. Weapons. Shields. Personal islands. Airships. Floating cities. Anything at all can be bought and sold.

The World of Wishes is a world of wonder—and also a world of usury.

The only law is the law of the contract. Or, in the parlance of the universe, a LAMP: a Loan Agreement for Manipulating Physics. Disputes are settled not by police and courtroom trials, but by accredited lawyers and negotiations. There is a price for everything—including murder, and resurrection after violent murder. The only crime is failing to meet that price. The Djinn do not care about the ethics of a contract, only that the contract is fulfilled.

And when the bills come due, you'd better be able to pay.

When someone defaults on a bill, the Djinn spawn monsters to 'collect' the debtor—that is, to kill the person or destroy the organisation. The greater the debt, the more powerful the Collector. Collectors don't care about anyone or anything that get in their way, only that the debt is collected. However, if the Collector is destroyed, the LAMP is canceled.

These simple rules set up the opening for the World of Wishes. Isaac Jackson is fighting a rebellion against the Black Sorceress, utterly unaware that his entire world is merely a game for the rich. Clarissa Hardcastle is an employee of the Black Sorceress—and also a daughter of an ultrawealthy family. When the World of the Black Sorceress defaults, the Djinn spawn a massive Collector to collect the debts.

Which it does by destroying the World of the Black Sorceress.

Isaac is unceremoniously dumped into the World of Wishes. Having spent his entire life in the World of the Black Sorceress, he has no idea how the World of Wishes works. His only anchor is a fictitious faith that exists only as part of the lore of the World of the Black Sorceress. He is one of the few—maybe even only—person who is not, and can not, be corrupted by the World of Wishes. He is simultaneously the audience surrogate and the hero.

Clarissa is now forced to return to her family home. Her parents want her to return to the fold, and fulfill the terms of the LAMP that keeps the Hardcastle family together. However, after everything she has seen and done, she can no longer avert her eyes from the evil that runs through the world. She is a feisty, driven heroine, and though she is intelligent and caring, her passions propel her into more trouble than she expects.

Clarissa reluctantly takes on the burden of guiding Isaac through this strange new world. Along the way, they encounter Erik, a soldier in the Extended Limit Force, whose ostensible mission is to protect the people from Collectors. Together, they team up to destroy the World of Wishes.

The story is told through the three characters' perspectives. Every character has a unique voice. Erik is the professional warrior with a tender but wounded heart; Clarissa is intense and speaks exactly like a modern teenage girl would; Isaac has the formal register of a paladin straight out of a fantasy novel. The chapters cycle between the characters, sometimes even within the same scene. This may occasionally be jarring for some readers, but I find that it keeps the story moving at a brisk pace.

To say anything more about the plot would be to risk veering into heavy spoiler territory. I will say that every major plot beat feels organic, with every element naturally building atop each other. The first third of the story introduces the world and characters. The plot kicks into gear when Clarissa embarks on a quest to save a friend—and sees the true depths of depravity of the World of Wishes.

There are of course fight scenes aplenty, but the meat of the story lies in exploring the underlying structure and logic of the World of Wishes. The World of Wishes is a world founded on usury. It is a world in which everyone is a willing participant. No one person can be blamed for the evils of the system of usury—and, at the same time, everyone is responsible for maintaining the system. The system could collapse overnight simply by refusing to participate in it. Yet the base desires of humanity drive people into the arms of the Djinn—of alien machines who do not care about human life or dignity, only wishes and contracts.

A host of ideas are explored in this seemingly-slim story. Contracts and negotiations in an usurious system, exploitation of the underclass, a Catholic perspective on an economy of usury, faith in a fallen world, even teenage rebellion.

The book pulls no punches. It is subtitled 'A Dystopia', and a dystopia it truly is. It delivers an unflinching look into the dark side of a world that runs solely on contracts. Slavery. Abuse. Self-harm. Violence as entertainment and domination. Memory manipulation, and all the horrors that comes with it.

The most remarkable element of it all is that the author managed to convey the weight of these topics without writing a single explicit scene, without graphic descriptions of violence, or even a real-world swearword. He handles sensitive issues like violence and sexuality with a delicate touch, neither shying away from them nor shoving them down the reader's throat.

The book is written for a New Adult audience. The author recommends it for readers above the age of 17. It somehow manages to be both more and less dark and gritty than some modern Young Adult stories—which, frankly, reflects more on the state of modern YA than the novel.

Despite its dark themes, The World of Wishes is fundamentally a superversive story. The characters are well-meaning, and though they make plenty of mistakes, they do their best to make up for them. They embrace hardship and sacrifice when the situation demands it. The Catholic Church is presented as a force for good, and its teachings are depicted as a positive countervailing ideology to that of the World of Wishes. The very idea of an uber-libertarian world where anything you want can be freely traded is demonstrated to be morally repugnant and spiritually corrosive. The ending is hopeful as well, and lays the groundwork for the wider conflict to come.

Kaiju battles, philosophical explorations of usury and debasement, teenage rebellion and faith do not usually come together. Yet, incredibly, the author made it work. The World of Wishes doesn't fit neatly into any but the most generic of established genres. It is not the kind of book your average indie author who seeks only to turn a profit will write.

It is the kind of book that must be published.

In a genre that celebrates grimdarkness and moral relativism, The World of Wishes is a breath of fresh air. It presents humanity at its worst, and also at its most noble. It does not seek to pummel the reader with a political ideology, but it is guided by a clear moral vision. The World of Wishes is a world of usury—and also a world of wonder.

You can read The World of Wishes for free here. However, if you want to support the author, you can purchase it on Amazon here—or, if you're truly committed to the cause, you can purchase the NFT here.

My own series SAGA OF THE SWORDBREAKER explores a world that is founded on cultivation—and is undermined by greed and corruption. Check it out here!

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