Today's book review is Tinker by Wen Spencer.
This is a bit hard to review. At the bottom, it's a fast paced adventure, which is good, mixed with too much awkwardness of a teenager trying to deal with growing up, all set in a fairly clever world that pulls off a really good blend on SF and fantasy, magic and technology. The way the world works strains my suspension of disbelief, but I'm willing to go with it. The actual plot, though, is a little more annoying, with a few more deus ex machina twists than it really needed. I doubt that a nitpicky reader could like this book, but fortunately, I am not a nitpicky reader. Some things bothered me, but in general, as long as there's enough in the story that I want to believe, and the writing can carry me through, I can put up with a lot. As I write this, I realize that I really want to tolerate the hard to believe stuff and the plot problems so that I can encounter more of the cool ideas in the setting. 7 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
We open the story with wargs chasing an elf into a scrapyard in Pittsburgh. Tinker, the heroine, runs the scrapyard. She uses the electromagnetic crane to disrupt the magic of the wargs -- magical constructs, actually -- and save the elf, who turns out to be Windwolf, whom she encountered once before. As she understood that previous encounter, she thought Windwolf was mad at her for getting in his way when a flesh-eating dinosaur from the elf world ran through the faire creating havoc. We start getting dribbles of explanation of the world about now. It's something like 2030, and back in something like 2010, the Chinese turned on a hyperspace gate that had the interesting side effect of shifting Pittsburgh into the elven world. Except that the gate is shut down one day a month, and Pittsburgh returns to the human world. Magic, we'll learn, is a quantum energy that's very weak in our plane, but much stronger in the elven world; magic works in our world, but there's nothing to power it with. Anyway, Tinker recognizes Windwolf, who in their previous meeting cast a spell that she was told by Tooloo would mean she would die if Windwolf died, so she wants to save him. She prints out a spell -- really cute technology there, spell printers -- and uses the magical battery she invented to power it, stabilizing the elf, but her battery won't last long enough to hold him until the next day when the stargate turns back on and Pittsburgh goes back to the elf world where she can turn him over to his own kind. And the human hospital is forbidden by treaty from treating the elf, so she enlists her cousin Oilcan, shifts her office/trailer onto a flatbed truck, and heads to the observatory to get help from Lain, a xenobiologist and one of Tinker's mentors. Lain does some first aid, and drops the bombshell on Tinker that Tinker's been accepted to CMU. Tinker never wanted to go to college; she doesn't want to leave the weird place that Pittsburgh's become (and CMU moved when the gate came on). So she'd answered all the questions wrong on the test, not realizing that the AI administering the test would be good enough to realize that she'd been faking it and really did know the answers to all of them. Including some physics questions nobody in the world could answer. Tinker tentatively agrees. Next, they need to get Windwolf to his own people once the gate turns back on, but they run into some nasties on the way. They claim to be agents of the EIA, the interdimensional border patrol, but they want to kill Windwolf, and Tinker won't let them, so she runs and they narrowly make it to the border and deliver Windwolf to the elf healers. After the elves fend off the rogue EIA, Tinker and Oilcan end up talking to Maynard, the mysterious head of EIA, who, without actually telling Tinker who Windwolf is, says with certainty that real EIA agents wouldn't be trying to kill him. Tinker doesn't trust Maynard -- since her presence in Pittsburgh was technically illegal until just recently when she turned 18, she's been hiding from EIA all her life -- but she cooperates, and leaves. Then, the next day, Windwolf is at her place, questions her about her motives, and then takes her back to the elf healers who fix her hand.
Tinker finds out that Nathan, a cop who's been a friend and protector, has had a crush on her for years at the same time as she is getting a lot of attention from Windwolf, including a gift that she doesn't realize at the time is a marriage proposal, and a mark on her forehead that makes her legally a top-caste elf. Lain gives her some hints, and they go to a scientist party, where they meet Riki, a grad student who needs a job to stretch his stipend out; Lain convinces Tinker to accept him as an assistant at the scrapyard. Then the next day, Tinker finds herself kidnapped, again, this time by what turns out to be a couple of NSA agents from the regular USA. It seems that the top quantum physicists have been disappearing, and they are trying to locate and protect a mystery man named Alexander Graham Bell, who is really Tinker, but they think Tinker is too young, because Bell was conceived artificially 10 years after the death of his father, the guy who invented the stargate, the technology that nobody yet really understands. Tinker takes advantage of their confusion to trick them into going to the elf hospice, where she gets the elves to help her with a quick word. Then she finds herself talking to Maynard, who is trying to patch up a very serious treaty violation that should mean, at the very least, the summary execution of the NSA agents.
Next Tinker goes on a date with Nathan, only to be spirited away mid-date by Windwolf. Windwolf takes her off for a romantic interlude where she gives her permission, without actually understanding, to have a spell cast on her. A spell that involves Windwolf having sex with her, which she quite enjoys, but when she wakes up 3 days later and discovers that she's been turned into an elf, she's pretty pissed. Of course, Nathan is even more pissed when she gets back, and when he tries to rape her, only to be stopped by Pony, the elf bodyguard she's acquired, she's really not sure what she wants. She gets Lain to check her DNA, and is relieved to learn that she can still call Oilcan her cousin. Then Riki tricks her into slipping away from Pony -- only she doesn't realize that Riki is tricking her -- and she is kidnapped again, this time by agents of the elf queen. She spends an uncomfortable three weeks in the elf city, where the only parts she enjoys are getting to know Windwolf better and bonding a bit with her bodyguard. She's just reconciled herself to actually being the wife of the Viceroy of the elven Westernlands enough to start using her power to begin building a proper laboratory when Lain convinces her she should talk to Windwolf. She and Pony ride off to meet him, when -- this is getting tiresome -- she gets kidnapped AGAIN, this time by the real nasties, the Oni. (We've picked up, along the way, that in addition to the human world and the elf world, there's another world whose inhabitants inspire some Japanese mythology. While humans were human and the elves used their magic to become elves, the Oni world developed significant magic, crossbred slaves with animals, and overpopulated their world terribly, so the Oni really want to take over earth and elfhome for living space.) Tinker believes she's been transported to the Oni world, and starts working on designing a Gate so she has a hope of escaping, when enough clues slip through the kitsune illusions that she realizes she's still on Elfhome. She escapes, but when she meets Sparrow, an elf from Windwolf's household, she learns that Sparrow is a traitor and is caught again. To save Pony from having his bones cut out while she watches, she agrees to build the gate the Oni want, but she manages a couple of tricks. First, her gate will resonate with the Chinese one in such a way that it will break the Chinese one and shut down the gates (presumably, until she can build a new one under her control), and second, she manages to finish early, and use the diversion as a cover to escape. The pursuit captures her, but Windwolf arrives in the nick of time, and after a jolly battle the good guys win. She has to choose now which side of the barrier she will stay on, and chooses the elves, only to find that, contrary to her expectation, Pittsburgh stayed on Elfhome rather than earth. She's afraid that Pittsburgh will starve, but Windwolf assures her that won't happen.
For what happens after that, we'll have to check the sequel.