Call Me Oscar (…and other reviews; 11/3/2009)

A.k.a. Best review ever

What do you get if you cross an Anne McCaffery with an Oscar Wilde? According to Locus magazine’s review of The Adamantine Palace, what you get is me:

‘The wittiest of a bunch where wit is rarely in short supply is Stephen Deas, in his remarkable début The Adamantine Palace. A Prologue sets the scene, as the mid-air liaison of two humans (a scheming prince and an adulterous “dragon-queen”) shifts from lusty grappling to murder with one push: “Her arms flailed and then she was gone, off into the sky.” Every entity here, whatever their species or aristocratic rank, proves to be thoroughly physical, and most are morally flawed, but Deas isn’t interested in giving us another epic clash of Good vs. Evil.

Even the vivid portrayal of dragons, in a culture which has constrained them and made them into an uncanny version of our flying machines, doesn’t lead to a wallow in high magics or picturesque delights. As Queen Shezira (a hedonist more cynical than the late Queen Aliphera) tells one of her daughters when they enter a new city, “You’ll see many strange and different sights here, Lystra. Keep your sense of wonder, but keep it to yourself, too, or people will take you for a fool.”

At first, the combination of the fantastic with keen observation and sheer impudence reads something like Anne McCaffery as filtered through the mind of Oscar Wilde. Amid the partial chaos of shifting viewpoints and a growing cast of characters there’s a strong thread of sardonic humour, enough to keep the prospect of a brokered marriage – handing over another of Shezira’s daughters to the murderous Prince Jehal – from seeming entirely horrific.

Meanwhile, details about the dragons – and their relationship to the humans they think of as “Little Ones” – continue to trickle in via another plot thread, laying the ground for a tale that will come to be both substantially darker and more imaginative than cynical social comedy. As Deas moves beyond the wiles of his political schemers and the more general bitterness of a sell-sword working for dragon riders, he finds room for a broad spectrum of emotions ranging from unexpected tenderness to a berserker rage than man and dragon may share (though in other ways they’re very different).

From the sublime to the bland, it’s hard to pick a quote from the SFX review. “Not the instant classic that some have suggested, but promising enough and neatly set up for a sequel?” Hmmm. “A promising set-up. Whether the rest of the book lives up to the initial idea is less certain?” No, not that. “The plot moves along briskly and surprises occur?” Gee. Three stars. Guess for one reviewer we did a lot of taxiing around the airport but never quite took off huh? Never mind: The world could do with a bit more depth? Yes, OK, fair cop. But Prince Jehal’s motivations are opaque? Really? I thought they were just shallow, that’s all…

I suppose the most useful (although sadly lacking in Oscar Wilde references) is actually Fantasy Book Critic, which is a fairly lengthy and explicit (and happily generally very positive) review and includes the book blurb, some background and links to other online reviews (with varying degrees of hyperbola). Gollancz has discovered another winner? Yes, I’ll take that as a last word.

There’s also a complete list of all the reviews I’m aware of (good and bad) here.

But back to Oscar. Thank you Locus. Thank you very much. And now I shall away to my hatter, for I feel my head has become greatly swollen…

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2 Responses to “Call Me Oscar (…and other reviews; 11/3/2009)”

  1. Andrew M. says:

    Only 1 more week (then a week or more for it to be shipped).

    Looking forward to reading it (and checking for the cover difference!)

  2. Stephen Deas says:

    Heh – look hard. And I’m not talking about slight differences in the twiddly font!

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