Publish Date: 30 September 2020
Page Count: 235 pages
A spoiled prince haunted by a ghost. A big city swindler with a knack for illusions. A cold soldier with a sharp eye. A pirate with a few screws loose. A chieftain’s bookish daughter with carefully bandaged hands. A peacekeeping agent with an eye for vengeance.
After simultaneously knocking on death’s door, these six find themselves psychically connected across national lines. Tensions rise between them and between their respective countries, which are recovering from a long war over the mysterious vitae—an energy source harvested and utilized in weapons and engines called conductors. Loyalty, memory, and sense of self blur as conspiracies encroach.
Assassination attempts, a border conflict, a missing peacekeeping agent, a bar shootout, a tale of a bloodthirsty beast, and the terrorist organization ELPIS.
—Everything is connected. Nothing is coincidental. The spark has ignited…!
The Synchronized Six by newcomer author Elmer Wynn was such a surprise. When she contacted me, this self-published novel had no reviews on Goodreads, and I wasn’t sure what to expect after reading the blurb. But, the premise seemed to be a nod to TV shows like Sense 8 and The OA with a fantasy twist, so I was interested enough to accept a copy in exchange for an honest review. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so ambitious or addictive.
Signum is made up of twelve countries named after signs of the zodiac, which surround the central, peace-keeping state of Ophiuchus (the thirteenth sign in sidereal astrology). The twelve nations maintain a tentative state of peace after a prolonged war over ‘vitae’, a magical energy source that is the basis for technology, industry and military. Gifted individuals called Conductors can wield vitae using the specialised devices after which they are named. As the vitae energy can manifest in different ways, Conductors are identified as either transmutationists, projectors, conjurers or elementalists.
When six strangers from across the continent have a near-death experience on the same day, they are haunted by foreign thoughts and visions through a mysterious psychic connection. With conflicting objectives from opposite sides of assassination attempts, border disputes and terrorism, the six must learn to control their new bond and use it to their advantage.
This hefty premise would be a massive undertaking for any author, yet Wynn has done a fantastic job. It took me a week and a half to finish the book due to shift work, but I couldn’t wait to get back to it every time I put it down. The character and plot development are consistently paced through episodic chapters that read almost like a TV series.
While I never lost my place in the story, there is a lot going on in the book, and I’d be lying if said I was able to analyse every single thread of the plot (I even drew a little map of Signum at the start). That said, after I realised where Wynn was going with the concept, I was surprised by how easily I was absorbed by the plot and the fantastic characters.
Chapters alternate between the POV of the six protagonists who share the spotlight equally, and they visit each other psychically, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all at once. The main strength – and the main joy – of this book is seeing this connection develop and how it affects each character and the greater story. Its a genuinely satisfying reading experience.
Wynn makes some bold but effective decisions to avoid repetition between perspectives by playing with chronology and sometimes skipping entire conversations. I found this incredibly well-executed and a lot of fun to read. Some of her writing tactics feel like they could be ‘no-no’s’ in traditionally published books, perhaps because the intention can be obvious, but for me that made it even more interesting to read.
The protagonists are loosely based on astrological traits leading to a diverse and vibrant group. From a disciplined soldier to an unhinged pirate, a spoiled prince to a care-free swindler, the dynamics between the contrasting personalities create amusing scenarios. Wynn does a great job at creating clear and likeable characters despite having to jump between them and develop their psychic relationship. One of them even comments on character development in passing, a gentle knock-knock on the fourth wall that I found hilarious.
Understandably, the characters perhaps lack the nuance of protagonists with less competition for the spotlight, but for me, they were jumping out of the page (a special shoutout to Captain Maria Gloria-Fernandez who is my favourite character, but completely absurd and I don’t understand her at ALL, much like her fellow psychics).
Wynn describes Signum as dieselpunk, and there are hints of vitae-based technology in place of fossil fuels or real-world energy sources. Perhaps because this is a big change from historical fantasy settings, I did find it a little challenging to picture the physical locations, so I think this could have been more clear.
Relatively little is known about the nature of vitae, which serves the plot well but also feels odd given its significance. The social and economical implications of its use could have been explored further, as the prevailing use of conductors seems to be as weapons.
That said, I’m only really mentioning these last points for the sake of a comprehensive review, as they didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book at all.
If you are looking for a story featuring conspiracies, action, humour and a large cast of engaging characters in an unfamiliar fantasy setting, I highly recommend checking out this first instalment in the Six Chances series.
Trigger warnings: death of children, reference to suicide and self-harm.
Support independent bookstores and my blog by buying from bookshop.org