Bec Reviews: Michael Pryor—"Moment of Truth"
Michael Pryor is a rare talent in the Young Adult literary field. Having published over twenty books and forty short stories, he’s also been nominated for a number of prestigious awards, including the Ditmar and the Aurealis. A versatile author, Pryor’s work ranges from literary fiction through to science fiction and humour. He writes for both Young Adult and younger readers. His most recent YA series, The Laws of Magic, comprises six books, the last of which he is currently working on. The penultimate book in the series, Moment of Truth, has just been released to critical acclaim.
I must confess that I hadn’t read Michael Pryor’s work before picking up this book and it’s testament to his talent that I’m now dying to devour his back catalogue. A thorough researcher and history buff, Pryor has injected this weighty novel with military accuracies and technical detail that bring to life his quasi-WWI setting. You get the impression, while reading Moment of Truth, that you’re receiving a subtle, yet comprehensive tuition, along with a wonderful tale of spies and battle on the world stage. And you are. In a recent interview, Pryor described his research as a two-stage process: a general investigation into the major events of the period (in this case, pre-World War I), including political, military, arts, scientific, and social development, and closer research into the reality of living in that period on a daily basis. This meticulous attention to detail lends Moment of Truth a uniquely enjoyable quality: concealed within the sheer escapism of this engrossing novel is a revelatory history lesson, which further heightens the realism of the story.
The novel’s well-rounded central character, Aubrey, is a serious-minded 15-year-old— one who inspires affection and admiration. I can imagine a male readership finding no problems in identifying with him as he confronts each new challenge with a mixture of intrepidity and caution. His loyalty, humility, and resourcefulness are equally as endearing as his weakness in the company of attractive young women. Should he risk the affection of his beloved Caroline for the uncertainty of the formidable, intelligent, and mysterious Sophie? For all his strategising and taking charge, Aubrey is, ultimately, an adolescent, with all the associated flaws and insecurities. It is in Aubrey’s exchanges with his friends and love interests that Pryor’s powers of observation and wit really shine.
In quaint and elegant language evocative of the time, Pryor sends his cast of military strategists, magic experts, politicians, and villains racing towards a climax that will stun and delight. When Aubrey and his secret espionage unit are engaged in a particularly tense moment of combat, his comrade George addresses him:
‘I thought so too, old man.’ George paused a moment and seemed to enjoy Aubrey’s
puzzlement. ‘You see, old man, I like to keep you on your toes. Sometimes, when I’m
supposed to give a compliant “What did you think?” response, I prefer to throw in a googly.’
The ingenuity, research, and humour Pryor brings to this delightful book can’t be praised highly enough: his inventiveness is endlessly entertaining; his detail is utterly delicious in its sure-handedness; his ability to draw a wry smile is matched only by his aptitude for expressing events of great gravity in language that is at once sensitive and evocative. The reader puts down this latest offering by Michael Pryor with a sense of great satisfaction, yet a nagging disappointment. After having been lost in such a well-told tale of magic and espionage, it is a wrench to leave Aubrey and his friends to return to the real world beyond the covers of this book. The good news is that The Laws of Magic Part 6 (Hour of Need) is set for release in 2011, so the wait for the final instalment of the series shouldn’t be too unbearable. More Young Adult novels need this depth and research. In a YA universe saturated with books of an increasingly superficial nature, it’s refreshing to discover a book as well-written and engaging as Michael Pryor’s Moment of Truth.
Moment of Truth – Michael Pryor
August 2nd 2010 by Random House Australia
Paperback, 428 pages