Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica

Indigo Springs
A.M. Dellamonica
Tor, 2009
U.S. trade paper, first edition
ISBN 978-0-7653-1947-0
320 pages; $14.99

Indigo Springs is a first novel by a writer who has been publishing short fiction for nearly two decades. It shows the skill of someone who has long practiced in making words do what she wants them to do, and also the inexperience of a first-time novelist who has a great idea but doesn’t exactly know how to execute it. It’s a terrific story with new ideas and a unique magic system that works. With a stronger structure and a more coherent ending, this would have been a contender for major prizes. As it stands, it is fun to read and offers great promise of even better work to come.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks, a tale told by a prisoner to a law enforcement agent who has been tasked with finding out where the prisoner’s extremely dangerous friend might be, and what can be done to stop her. The agent, Will Forrest, tells us his portion of the tale, which takes place in the present, in the first person. The flashbacks are told in a third person voice, with the prisoner, Astrid, as the viewpoint character. Astrid has recently returned to her home town, Indigo Springs, to live in the house she has inherited from her father. Her stepbrother, Jackson, an artist, also lives in the house; and soon Sahara, her best friend, arrives, on the run from her cheating boyfriend in the car she has stolen from him.

Astrid’s relationships with her two housemates are complicated. Jacks is in love with her, and she is in love with Sahara, who uses that love to manipulate her. This would be bad enough in a real-life situation, but it gets incredibly complicated when you add magic to the mix. Astrid has long been a magic apprentice, but she has mostly forgotten about her father’s work with her and vitagua, an indigo blue liquid that is the essence of magic. Her memories start to return when she discovers her father’s cache of “chantments,” small items that have been enchanted to accomplish magic tasks, such as a lipstick that makes the wearer beautiful or a scrub brush that cleans a kitchen all by itself, a la The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Soon Astrid is using vitagua to make more and more chantments, which Sahara is sending around the country to those who might be able to tell them more about exactly how magic works.

But Astrid ultimately doesn’t need all the advice Sahara is gathering from real witches all over the United States. A fireplace repair ruptures, spreading vitagua all over the house, contaminating Sahara and filling Astrid to the brim as she absorbs it into her body. Now Astrid knows exactly what the realm of the unreal is, and voices are giving her full information on the past, present and future. She begins to have difficulty knowing which is which, and her confusion allows Sahara to recontaminate herself.

The frame for the novel, in which Astrid is a federal prisoner telling her story to a cop, lets us know that Sahara uses the magic for evil rather than good, and also that magic can get completely out of hand, transforming plant and vegetable life into unmanageable entities that are inimical to humans. How we get from Astrid rediscovering magic to the outbreak of magic that threatens the human race and destroys Will’s family, however, is not described with the loving detail lavished on the early part of the story, which is disappointing. But Dellamonica tells the story of Astrid’s gradual reintroduction to magic with true panache, making for a very enjoyable read.

As the book approaches its conclusion, things become very vague indeed. The conclusion is rushed and unsatisfactory. It appears that the story isn’t intended to truly end with this book, as Dellamonica has written a sequel, Blue Magic, to be published in 2011. If it’s as good as Indigo Springs, with the added advantage of actually finishing this tale, it’ll definitely be a winner. I await it eagerly.