Kelly Jensen at SFCrowsnest reviews Aldous Mercer's "The Prince and the Program".
Mordred ‘Mori’ Pendragon is exiled to Canada (oh, the horror!) for unspecified crimes. Broke and powerless, he interviews for a job as a software engineer and takes a position with a tech startup in Toronto. It’s pretty clear from the outset that his lack of programming experience isn’t the biggest issue the company has. There are gremlins in the network…or demons. Oh, and another company is trying to steal their data…and the chief technical officer lives in a MacBook. He might be the ghost of Alan Turing or a bloody smart AI or one of the aforementioned demons.
So, Mori’s work life is complicated. His personal life is, too. Debt collectors have just reduced his mattress to fluff and his bed frame to kindling. His symbiot (more on this later) is hungry. His friends and relatives all insist he needs to get laid and offer up friends and relatives as potential partners. Mori has a thing for Alan, though. A slowly, quietly developing thing.
This ‘thing’, this crush, is an amusing, gentle, surprisingly emotional and riveting undercurrent to the story. While Alan and Mori debate questions of what makes a soul and if a soul makes one capable of love, someone else at the company is experimenting with magic that could suck the souls out of everyone, thus ending the world as we know it.
‘The Prince And The Program’ is one of those books you need to get a fair way into before asking too many questions. There is no info dump at the beginning to explain the rules of Mercer’s world and you only learn Mori’s true nature and status in bits and pieces as the story progresses. I never really figured out what his symbiot was for, except that he occasionally grew fangs, all while insisting he wasn’t a vampire. He’s actually a prince, a mage adept and part fae? I think. The lack of straightforward explanation can be frustrating at times but, by the time you get to the goats’ blood, you know enough to make sense of things if you’re prepared to do a little thinking.
Given the style and plot of this book, liking to think and liking to think about thinking are prerequisites. There is a lot of philosophy here and poetry, computer language, geek speak, concepts, otherworldly landscapes and humour. There is also a rousing good adventure story, including a trip through the realms of death where, luckily, Mori always knows a guy.
Recommended for readers of Urban Fantasy, philosophers, programmers and anyone with a heart.
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