The Face of Power


I just finished the first book in another new series and life is good. Obsidian Son is the first offering in the Nate Temple supernatural thriller series by Shayne Silvers (I'd call it urban fantasy, but he's the author, so we'll go with his designation). I'm already a fan and can't wait to see what happens to Nate, billionaire wizard, over the course of the series. And because I'm late to this particular author's party, there are six books and novellas to read. Awesome. Obsidian Son has all the elements that make paranormal fantasy meaningful for me—a cool hero, interesting secondary characters, a plot that moves and, of course, dragons; you've got to have dragons to be among the greats. It also has deep philosophical themes underlying the entertainment, which puts the cherry on the sundae for me and makes this series more than just an afternoon's amusement. There are a couple of complex concepts to explore in the series so far, and the one that hooked me first was about power. The wanting, the having, the need for more and the Spider-Man Mandate—that with great power comes great responsibility, about which I've written before. Not to mention the other side of that coin, the Animal Farm conundrum telling us that power corrupts and that absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. And its corollary that the lust for power is equally if not more corrosive to a previously good character.

In the world of Nate Temple, power comes in a variety of packages. Nate is a wizard who can manipulate physical energy to arrange reality the way he wants it, more or less. He's also the sole heir to a family company worth many billions of dollars (and really, once you add that many zeros to your bank balance, do the numbers at the front of those zeros really matter?). So, he's got power in the real world and power in the supernatural world. And, most interestingly, all of that power is increasing, with consequences unknown.

Nate is aware of the potentially corrupting influence of power and he fights against it, so far successfully. And while Nate can be immature (which seems to be de rigueur for young wizards), he's basically a good guy trying to do the right thing when the right thing isn't always easy to see. Or do. He’s what we all aspire to.

Not so with Nate's best friend, Peter. Spoiler alert here: if you don't want to know what happens, read no further. But if you don’t mind.... Peter is a Muggle among supernatural entities (called a "Regular" in this series). He is the third in a childhood triumvirate that also includes Nate and Gunnar, a werewolf. Peter has long been the odd man out in this trio, with neither magical nor transformational ability of the howling variety, even though he is one of the rare humans who has been initiated into knowledge of a world beyond the mundane. A realm where supposedly mythological creatures and people with supernatural powers actually exist. He's had a lifetime to watch his closest friends participate in an extraordinary arena from which he’s always excluded. And while Nate and Gunnar were always generous with Peter, unbeknownst to them, Peter was nurturing a deep resentment that would eventually sprout thorns vicious enough to irreparably damage the fabric of their friendship once and for all.

It seems the drive to power can be just as destructive as the wielding of it. Power corrupts when we forget the purpose of power, which should be, but isn't always, to help others and to make the world a better place. Period. That is the only appropriate use of power. I'm not saying it's not OK to enjoy the use or possession of said gift. It is OK, just as it's OK to enjoy a meal whose primary purpose is to nourish. It's cool if the fuel tastes delicious while also being nutritious. And it's fine to enjoy the trappings of power and wealth as long we come out on the side of the angels in the end. 

Similarly, there is nothing wrong, per se, with the pursuit of power. I take no issue with those who seek it, particularly with the express goal of doing good, such as elected and appointed officials, military officers, CEOs and pre-school teachers (I haven't met anyone more powerful than the Superman or Wonder Woman who can successfully corral fifteen screaming four-year-olds and get them to sit quietly and listen to a story). Many of us who had troubled childhoods seek control and nothing says control more than power. It's not the desire or the object of the desire that is inherently evil. Just the means we use to achieve power and the choices we make once we get there. 

Obsidian Son offers a portrait of the two faces of power—one that struggles to enhance life through the exercise of power and one that doesn't give a shit about anyone or anything as long as their lust is satisfied. It's quite the dichotomy and Shayne Silvers delivers a morally nutritious meal that tastes as good as it feels. The good guys rule and the bad guys drool. Or something like that. And along the way we have an opportunity to ponder the practice of power, its pursuit and purpose.  I'll have to add supernatural thrillers to my list of places to find truth in fantasy.  It's a powerful pleasure.