“Diabolically good” is perhaps the best phrase to use to describe Eric Nylund’s Mortal Coils, the first book in a proposed five-novel Y/A series. That’s because the twin fifteen-year-old protagonists in this story, Eliot and Fiona Post, are subjected to three heroic trials and three diabolical temptations by the two sides of their families: one composed of angels, gods & goddesses - the Immortals - and one made up of various evil figures from mythology, world religions, and demons and devils, known as the Infernals. As such, the novel has some similarities with Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” and Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.” Regardless of some thematic similarities, though, it is a unique work of literature, one sure to appeal to both teen and adult readers.
The Post children’s lives are anything but typical, even before they discover their familial heritage is a mix of the diabolical and the divine. They are orphans, a common plot element in many fairy tales and children’s novels. Eliot and Fiona live in an apartment building with their grandmother Audrey and great-grandmother Cecilia, whom they often refer to as Cee. They occupy an entire floor of the building, and their stern but loving grandmother rules over them with a set of 106 Rules that are - forgive the pun - posted in their rooms.
The teens have been home-schooled, given difficult daily homework assignments by their grandmother. They also work at a restaurant called Ringo’s All American Pizza Palace, cleaning up after kids’ parties, washing dishes, and doing other dirty, grungy sorts of jobs ordered by their lecherous supervisor, Mike Poole, and are sent off to work there every day with sack lunches that Cee makes them. She is not the greatest cook in the world, to put it mildly, and often gets the ingredients wrong in the recipes she uses, but she is a kind, gentle counterpoint to their grandmother’s strictness and rules.
One enjoyable aspect of the novel is Eliot’s and Fiona’s attempts to one-up each other through the use of insults. They’re not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill types of insults, but ones that display their intellects and wide vocabularies. The twins try to outdo each other, thinking up insults based upon, for example, the Latin term for an animal or insect to describe each other. If the one being insulted doesn’t respond because he or she doesn’t know the term’s meaning, that twin loses that round of their daily episodes of sibling rivalry. Here Fiona speaks first:
“Cee told me you were adopted,” she told him. “I saw the birth certificate. It
said, ‘Eliot Post. Sarcoptus scabiei.’”
Neither side of the teens’ families, they learn when they meet them, are like typical mortal family members. Both sides devise a series of three tests, or temptations, to determine which side of the family the twins most take after. If the tests determine the twins favor the side of the family opposite whichever one is giving the tests, or they favor neither side and behave more like mortals in their reactions to the tests, failure means a certain and bloody death. Knowing this is why the twins’ grandmother and Cee had tried for so long to hide them away and shelter them from a possible confrontation with either side of their often jealous and always murderous family tree.
This was the microscopic mite that caused scabies, whose symptoms included
pimplelike irritations and intense itching.
Eliot scratched his head. “Got to get your nose out of the medical books. I’ve
read them all, too. Are you losing your touch? A dose maybe of Mycobacterium
That was the strain of bacteria, also called Hansen’s bacillus, that caused leprosy.
Nice double entendre.
Eric Nylund is a writer and story consultant for Microsoft Game Studios and has been instrumental in developing and maintaining games like Halo and Gears of War. He has also written the comic mini-series Battlestar Galactica: The Cylon War, the graphic novel Halo: Genesis, and is the author of Halo: Ghosts of Onyx.
Nylund has said in interviews that some of his other influences include Harlan Ellison and Roger Zelazny, who happen to be two of my favorite SF/fantasy authors and ones I highly recommend to the readers of this site. You can see influences of both in Mortal Coils. If you love reading excellent stories involving a mix of fantasy, magic, mythology, and reality as in the novels of C.S Lewis and Neil Gaiman, add Mortal Coils it to your reading list today.