Bookburners: “A Message Across Worlds” by Mur Lafferty. Season four, episode 8.
Before I get into the thick of it, here’s the usual reminder for potential new readers: Bookburners is an urban fantasy serial story by Serial Box that I’d recommend, and this review will contain spoilers for previous episodes.
With all that out of the way, “A Message Across Worlds” plays with structure in some interesting ways. It’s one of the benefits of the serial format; it’s easy to shake things up occasionally and to experiment with different narrative structures. Here, the story is told back to front (think of Christopher Nolan’s Memento). Our episode begins with the team on the plane back to London after visiting the Oracle and facing down the Swedes. Clearly, some stuff went down, but we’re hazy on the details. The story progressively leaps back to show more and more of the lead-up. It’s an interesting format, especially since it means having the climactic action sequence near the beginning. And the very end of the story is also the team first deciding to go visit the Oracle.
Overall, it works. The back to front format allows for nuance and subtlety to slowly unfurl, particularly as it comes to character relations. Liam and Francis have a tension that gets more explained over the episode. Same with Ashanti and Grace (although a very different sort of tension!).
At first glance, it’d be easy to only look at this episode in terms of how it is advancing the plot. The Swedes have been assassinating leaders in the magical community, and the Oracle of Delphi is a logical next step (although wouldn’t a new Oracle just be chosen? How does this have long-term impact?). The team wants to stop them. Magical battles ensue, and Ashanti takes a risky strategy. Also, the back to front structure allow for a twisty episode full of reveals.
But “A Message Across Worlds” also continues to develop the character arcs. The beginning of the episode makes it clear that Liam took initiative and did something risky yet awesome, and the rest of the episode ties that into the ongoing plot thread of Liam regaining trust in his own decisions and being more than a follower. It’s not my favorite plot thread, but that’s probably because Liam’s not my favorite character. I’m a Grace fangirl.
Speaking of Grace… well, no I won’t speak of Grace. I already told you that she had a conflict with Ashanti this episode but I don’t want to say too much more. I will say this: I think Grace is right. Also why has everyone but Sal been practically ignoring her situation? It’s so frustrating.
We’re over halfway through the season. There are clear villains to be defeated, but not much progress in terms of saving the world. I have an idea of what it would take — namely, the Marquess had the right idea. This is going to need international cooperation from across the magical community. And that can’t happen while there’s still in fighting to this degree.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.