Book Review: Bernie and the Wizards by Steve LeBel

June 13, 2018 Book Reviews 1

Book Review: Bernie and the Wizards by Steve LeBel

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Bernie and the Wizards by Steve LeBel
Genres: Mythic Fantasy, Middle Grade
Published by Argon Press on June 15, 2017
Pages: 354
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: Bernie and the Putty, "Bernie and the Lost Girl"

Second in The Universe Builders mythic fantasy series for middle-grade readers and revolving around Bernie, a young god who repairs universes…now that he’s graduated.

My Take

Bernie has moved up in his world and is about to take the next step: troubleshoot a world with problems. It’s just your ordinary, average sort of troubleshooting. You know, identify the problems afflicting an entire world and solve ’em so your bosses don’t eliminate the entire world. No biggie…except that none of your people believe that the people they create have any rights or value.

LeBel makes good use of third person simple subjective point-of-view with the narrator taking Bernie’s perspective throughout the story, conveying his thoughts, opinions, emotions, and beliefs, as he struggles to get around his boss’ ultimatum, his father’s overtures, his sudden celebrity status, and the urgings of his friends. It’s both a complex and a simple story with a number of minor plots that all tie back to Bernie’s life with plenty of unexpected revelations.

It’s that extremely chaotic cloud of Bernie’s that been getting him into all sorts of trouble. Well, that and his truly odd beliefs that the people created for worlds are individuals who deserve to be considered. It makes for some nice parallels with our politics of liberals and conservatives, for Bernie cares while the rest of them consider the worlds and their peoples toys. There’s another parallel with bigots who believe that they’re special because they have χ while the others don’t.

Lenny is a typical god with no thought for his creations…but still a typical teen who wants to be seen as all-that. Wait’ll you read his dating advice to Bernie, lol. Of course, there are also the official boyfriend lessons. But Lenny does grow, and Bernie gains a toehold for his beliefs amongst his people.

I do love LeBel’s approach to the underlying premise of his world and setting up The Business of creating worlds made-to-order with their own Operating Manuals and Quick Start Guides cracks me up. Yep, The Business provides a 1,000-year warranty for their worlds…and when some customer tries to put in a claim, their Warranty department gets just as out of shape over it as any other business in our own world.

The effort LeBel put into the considerations that go into creating a planet, if its major function is farming or production. The type of social and cultural engineering that will be necessary. Promoting magical thinking in the species. The differences between wizards, shamans, etc. How magic is perceived.

Hmm, it’s quite interesting about the timing of Bernie’s father’s awards… I loved that dismissal of the Great Simon by Claudius…! Then there’s his dad’s emphasis on the need to market. Geez.

Some good points in here, particularly the one about not thinking you know everything. And I love Photox’s shaman program. It’s so practical and considerate. There’s a concern about justice, souls, about building good character, about caring.

There’s plenty of conflict for Bernie to get through, with issues Bernie must solve, as LeBel does not make it easy for him, even though he has these powerful abilities.

I just adore LeBel’s The Universe Builders and the world and culture he has created, an interesting blend of normal plus god with teens at the heart of it.

The Story

Why the gods chose a plateau that doesn’t allow them to grow food or manufacture anything, well, only the gods know. It does mean they need the universes they build to produce everything they need. When one of those universes ceases production, well, all hell breaks loose, and it’ll be up to Bernie to fix it. Or else.

The Characters

Bernie became an instant celebrity in Bernie and the Putty, 1, a really big deal if you knew him and his impulsive cloud before. Now Bernie works for The Business as a troubleshooter. Hannah is Bernie’s very supportive mother who has an artistic flair. She works as a waitress at the Sunny Place Café. Alcandor is interested in Hannah. The Great Simeon is Bernie’s jerk of a god father, supposedly the greatest universe builder of all time.

Suzie is an administrative assistant to the Personnel Director. Lenny is the oldest and has a sentient good luck charm which could nudge the probability of future events with a precog ability, Sissy. Both are Bernie’s best friends. Lenny’s uncle Samuel retired to one of his universes and likes to wander one of his planets, performing miracles. Candi is Lenny’s girlfriend; both of them are fascinated by magic. Zephie is a doll from the planet Yarrow, but even Lenny has to agree that he’s alive.

Claudius is the oldest god (and the twelfth winner of Most Godlike Race) who has just returned, and the whole Town is abuzz with why he returned.

The Business is…
…all about universe building, repairing, troubleshooting, and matching up the right universe with the right god. Shemal is Bernie’s boss. Titus is a sales engineer (a former builder) steering customers towards the best universes for their needs. Miriam is the Warranty Officer who makes sure the company keeps its promises or fixes the problem. Magus is the Walker, um, I mean the “project manager”, and he has a strong order cloud. Walkers oversee the project, moving it from one department to the next, and providing quality assurance. Billy is an evil coworker.

God Town is…
…the city in which the gods live with the Central Plaza the hub of their entire world. Their most important institutions surround the plaza: The Business, the Town Hall, The Museum, and The School. Next to their town is The Edge, which marks the border between The Town and Unknown Territory, a fearsome place the gods never go. The Town Council are their leaders with Pauline as the Mayor, Jazelda is a top-ranked judge from the Awards Committee, Elijah is the Curator for The Museum, and Seth is Chairman of the Board of Directors for The Business. Lucius‘ guid-pepper and maganoons business may go under. Jacob is a vendor on the plaza.

The School is…
…where the young gods learn their craft. Zachariah is the Headmaster and the oldest god Bernie knew. Beatrice had been Bernie’s favorite teacher. Gabriel had been his Creation Ethics instructor. Wanda had been a classmate with a strong order cloud; fellow classmates resented her as much as they disliked Bernie. Ashley was a year ahead of Bernie and works in the Terrain Division these days, specializing in coastlines and mountains; she and Madison are suddenly very interested in Bernie.

All gods have an invisible cloud, which come in three “flavors”: orderly, chaotic, and in between. Gaia are a great mystery even to the gods, for they show up when a world is created and has life on it. While still a schoolboy, Bernie had worked as a stock boy for Good Shimmer Imports, a book trader. Damien’s World is a classic world used as a demonstration model in school. Universe putty is a necessary (and expensive) aid in creating universes. Lenny and Bernie are members of the Off-World Technology (OWT) Club.

Photox is…

…the planet created for Lucius with the Radolin race another goddess, Sarah, had created for the Universe Awards, as its primary population. The highest authority on the planet is the Council of [shaman] Masters who meet at Hom’s Head for the Enclave where the Gathering and the Choosing takes place, when a village needs a new shaman. Master Vanor is the oldest. Master Tiana had voted against Ashok. Master Elom had led the shamans-to-be to the Sacred Mountain six years ago. Masters Toth, Cenna, Leton, Otepon, Iponne, and Herit are members of the High Council as well. Makin had been one of Torak’s apprentices; now he serves the village of Badon.

In the farming village of Sestinon…
Torak, a Master of the healing arts, is the shaman. Circun is the shaman’s younger son with a rep for wisdom and directness. Twilla, the previous shaman’s granddaughter, is the reason Torak chose Sestinon.

Reva is Torak’s eighth young apprentice, and the firstborn child of a shaman, Avori, based in the village of Eton. Reva’s father works on a guid-pepper farm. Gavin is fascinated with Reva. His mother is Patah, and he has a little brother, Vetin. Thubin is Gavin’s father, a trader. Some of Reva’s mentors included/will include Master Sonj who told stories of how the gods shaped and influenced their world and taught her the rituals. Master Ragnot opened her eyes to what needs doing and taking the initiative. In his village lived the crippled Katon and the ailing Wail. Master Levonis will become another of her mentors.

Gantor, Windo, and their two daughters didn’t make it. Dotas is an old woman. Tong. Sobon is the beast master. Rendon, Freid, and Botor were injured.

Wedon is an old man the exiles from Sestinon encounter on their trek.

The village of Griston is…
…where Shaman Ashok had been assigned. His inner council includes Ponti, a portly minister; Berda; Hukon; and, the blue-haired Nadja. Rajon is the commander of Ashok’s army; his wife, Cair, had died while the village had no shaman. Emot is one of the raiders. Marin always has something cooking. Berto‘s hut is gone.

Shamans must train for seven years with seven different masters. Earth Mother and her husband, Sky Father, have a son, Gustor, a wind god. Xanot is a Shelter, an oasis where the people of Sestinon can rest. Holidon is the largest village in the far north. The Collectors are gods who come to the planet or universe to “collect” the trade goods produced or grown.

The Cover and Title

The cover is terrifying with its black background and shadows, as a scary face roars out at us, his headdress of violence dripping dagger-like. The series information is in white at the top in the biggest font with the author’s name at the bottom, also in white. It’s the title that angles upward in a bright blue across the shaman’s headdress.

The title is all about Bernie and the Wizards he encounters on Photox, the good, the bad, and the impossible.

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